It is progressively being recognized that the most significant challenge for food businesses is to introduce a positive culture of food safety into their operations and create a behavior-based Food Safety Management System. As the concept becomes clearer, so is the urgency to incorporate it in every food and beverage company.

Experts at the virtual Food Safety & Quality Summit expounded on the Food Safety Culture concept in an intriguing discussion. The panel was made up of Caroline Keror, Country SHEQ Manager, CCBA Kenya; Walter Bruce Opiyo, Quality Control Manager, Golden Africa; Andrew Wanga, Quality & Food Safety Manager, Africa, Mars Wrigley; Johnson Kiragu, Regional Program Director, Partners in Food Solutions and Doreen Lugalia, Managing Consultant, Mantra Consulting.

Internationally, food safety culture was defined by a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) technical working group in a 2018 position paper as “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.

Food Safety Culture Outlook: individual & company

As stated by Walter Bruce Opiyo, Quality Control Manager, Golden Africa, Food Safety Culture as practices and as a concept in itself has been with us for as long as we have been trying to implement any type of Food Safety Management System (FSMS). It is a critical part of establishing and ensuring the success of any FSMS.

“However, the word itself, ‘Food Safety Culture’, is the new one. It’s the one that has been officially coined to sort of express this attitude and behaviors, and as Andrew had mentioned, the non-written things that are needed to actually implement a successful FSMS that is able to be sustainable and grow within itself organically through continuous improvement,” he said.

Bruce informed that the culture is an ongoing project at Golden Africa Kenya Limited, a Kenyan manufacturer of edible oils. He said that they are three years inside its implementation and it has proved to be the pillar of FSMS 22000, which they have already put in place.

According to Caroline Keror, Country SHEQ Manager, CCBA Kenya, the on-boarding process of any person that joins the Coca-Cola organization involves a food safety brief on the objectives, activities and what food safety culture entails in the business. The person is then placed on a training or empowerment program that builds his/her capability as part of the company’s capability building of any person that comes in and is an important player in the food safety system. She adds that there are also self-assessment checklists made for every section that is involved in the food safety scope.

“This then brings the element of who are those people that will carry out the assessment. So, we talk about a cross-functional team that makes up a core team. Those are the people that become champions of the food safety culture and assessment and anything else that goes into food safety,” said Carol.

Food Safety Culture & SMEs

The Regional Program Director, Partners in Food Solutions, Johnson Kiragu, aired that Food Safety has been there, and some components of the Food Safety Culture have been in the standards which have been implemented from back then.

He said that management commitment is making the culture more conscious for organizations as they implement and make it a part of the organizational DNA, thus elevating the culture to the level of organizational strategy. It makes it more entrenched and deliberate in terms of how it is implemented by different people in the organization and it makes it mandatory that every employee in the organization is involved in the food safety endeavor.

“In my opinion, previously what we’ve seen is food safety culture at two levels, one is in the behaviors and practices of the persons and two, has been in what is written down in the espoused values in an organization, this is through standards, the do’s and don’ts. But what this new legislation is doing in the EU and now the adoption by the Codex, is making it more entrenched into the way everybody in an organization is supposed to behave, and that cultivates it as part of the DNA, what people do without thinking,” Kiragu commented.

The Director enlightened that the Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are pretty far in the implementation of Food Safety Culture due to shortage in human resources. He added that as an organization supporting the SME’s, they will have to make more deliberate and structured effort going forward to know how far they are on the journey and how best to assist.

Doreen Lugalia, Managing Consultant, Mantra Consulting brought out the significance of business leaders in the Food Safety Culture execution process. She enunciated that they define what culture they want and ensure they implement those behaviors in the people so as to guarantee production of safe food to consumers at the end of the day.

Advances in Food Safety Culture

The European Commission has recently incorporated Food Safety Culture in its legislation. Codex Standard and Food Safety Systems Certification (FSSC) have also adopted the culture.

Bruce shared that businesses that trade internationally have an advantage with the legislation of the culture.

“You’ll find that for us who get food or raw materials from outside, the impact of this new legislation on international food trade is immediate for us. So, immediately, we have our raw material suppliers having to adapt to the new legislation that is there and this changes how we trade in business with them. For us as a company we’ve had to adjust to these new changes,” he said.

Further he alluded that they are at an unfair advantage both in the industry and in the country because being the only edible oil supplier to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), they have already been placed through very stringent Food Safety Audit (FSA) which is aligned to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Codex. This has given Golden Africa great exposure to such demands and they already have a fairly moving infrastructure of Food Safety Culture that they are setting in.

Golden Africa has magnified the concept of unsafe food to their personnel and moved from just being food producers to ‘doctors’ in the minds of their staff. They also do impromptu questionnaires in the form of short exams to try and measure the level of understanding of staff on what is required in terms of behavior change.

The company rewards good performance to establish an off-the-top knowledge of FSSC trainings they have conducted. In addition, it has instituted a Food Safety Whistle Blower Policy where they ensure the anonymity of the whistle blower and also confirm this behavior by a reward.

To adapt to the new changes, Bruce highlighted that Golden Africa has engaged consultants to inculcate the new changes in a continuous improvement of the company’s current FSSC structure. He also informed that they are remodeling their supplier evaluation to ensure that the suppliers are also coming into the space where food can be traced from farm to fork.

According to Andrew Wanga, Quality & Food Safety Manager, Africa, Mars Wrigley, the leaders and regulators have over the years come to learn that food safety and quality cannot be sustainably delivered without the right culture behind it.

“Culture causes you to clean your hands before eating even when you are sure your hands are clean. That aspect is what is missing in the food industry. The standards that are being updated with the requirement of food safety culture, is going to force businesses and organizations to make sure that their companies’ policies, systems, processes are sensitive to what culture is supposed to be invested behind,” he said.

He added that when a company invests behind culture, the business will be forced to put in those full proof systems that support the workers to deliver food safety without fail.

Kiragu implored SMEs managers to commit themselves and resources towards the inculcation of a Food Safety Culture. He said that the role of each person in the organization will now be boxed into the cultural dimension of FSMS which unpacks a grand concept into strands that are easier to see and assess as an SME.

Doreen voiced that behavior is the missing ingredient towards an efficacious culture as the science is known, therefore, the legislation has to take up that space for the missing ingredient.

“So, it’s up to the business operators to ensure that culture takes the forefront coz with all the equipment and knowledge that you have, if you don’t have the right people with the right attitudes, if you don’t have communication processes in place, things are pushed under the carpet. Then you suddenly get an incident out there in the market, if you don’t have proper investigation procedures that happen. That’s why I feel the culture now is becoming a big thing,” she said.

Keror in concurrence with Doreen echoed that the major ingredient to the success of food safety performance is the people. She added that culture speaks to the people being accountable and owning the business.

The panelists called for the legislation and enforcement of Food Safety Culture in Africa.

This feature appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE