In order for your poultry plant’s food safety culture to be effective, or what Alchemy Vice President of Food Safety Laura Dunn Nelson refers to as mature, focus needs to be placed on five key elements.

Nelson offered her input on how a mature culture can help plants meet continuous food safety improvements while speaking during The Poultry Federation’s Food Safety Conference, held virtually on March 29-31.

The five elements she discussed are:

1. Vision and mission

In order to attain a mature food safety culture, plant managers must establish a vision and mission. Directions need to be established and there need to be clear expectations, Nelson said.

Leadership messaging is important, and managers must develop a sense of mutual trust and respect with the front-line workers.

“Make sure employees trust management. A lot of times there is not trust to do the right thing unless an external pressure comes in,” she said.

When front-line employees are trusted to do the right thing, they have a sense of autonomy, and can be “masters in the food safety program.”

2. People

The category of people isn’t limited to just those who are employed at the plant. It means all stakeholders, including the vendors that come into the facility. They, too, have an influence on food safety.

Governance and communications with staff members should also be stressed, Nelson said. She says incentives and rewards are a key tool to drive a strong food safety culture.

“If you don’t have incentives and rewards, and clear recognition for employees doing the right behaviors around food safety, then that’s a big mess,” said Nelson.

In a culture that’s low in maturity, people are doing the right thing simply out of the fear of negative consequences.

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Place a value on cooperation and togetherness, too, Nelson said. People working at the plant need to acknowledge that everyone has a role in food safety and employee safety, and that workers are not competing with one another.

3. Consistency

A mature food safety culture must also be consistent, Nelson said. Performance measurements and documentation are a good way to ensure consistency.

Collect data, Nelson suggests, but don’t just collect data for the sake of doing so. Review the data. Look for leading indicators for solutions to problems. An example she gave is examining ways to keep foreign materials out.

4. Adaptability

Adaptability to new requirements, trends or technology is key to good food safety practices, as is a dedication to problem solving.

“In a low mature organization, really there’s very little innovation,” Nelson said.

And when there are new requirements or technologies, people must be prepared and organized. If not, “when a change happens, it’s hard.”

The ability to adapt is related to a confidence, she said. Change should be embraced, and when success is achieved in adapting, make sure to share how it was achieved. It would also be wise for one shift at a plant to share it with another shift, and even with personnel at other plants within the company’s network.

5. Hazard and risk awareness

Having a strong perception of risks and hazards is very important, Nelson said.

In environments that are low in maturity, the staff relies on external inputs, such as what the regulatory or audit requirements for preventing risks are. Consequently, there may not be a clear understanding of the hazards or risks.

In a mature environment, front-line teams can be relied upon to managing risks at hand, as well as identifying potential ones that might arise.