Technician in a food factory_audit_inspection_food safety

Food manufacturers will have to show they have plans to improve their food safety culture

The World Health Organization estimates that 600 million people, almost one in 10 of the global population, fall ill after eating contaminated food every year, resulting in 420,000 deaths.

Of course, breaches in food manufacturers’ safety compliance are not confined to developing countries. According to a report from the Sustainable Food Trust, the cost of food contamination to UK food manufacturers stands at £16.08bn, and its root cause is non-compliance in food safety culture.

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The latest revision to the BRC’s Global Standard for Food Safety, which was issued on 1 August, seeks to address just that. The revised standard introduces new requirements for food manufacturers, covering logo conformity, confidential reporting systems, food defence, manufacture of petfood, environmental monitoring and testing of online check weighs. 

There is also a new clause requiring food manufacturers to develop a ‘strategic plan for food culture’. This needs to define activities involving all sections that affect product safety and must include an action plan indicating how such activities will be undertaken and measured, as well as intended timescales and a review of the effectiveness of completed activities.

Food manufacturers will have to ensure their plan is based on a reiteration process incorporating the ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ principles. To evalutate their current food safety culture, implement changes and assess improvements, they will also be encouraged to put in place the following: 

  • A staff survey focusing on values and culture
  • Annual one-to-one staff reviews and recognition programmes
  • Employee feedback mechanisms
  • Training reviews and staff development
  • Teamwork (eg staff involvement in setting product safety objectives)
  • Effective communication strategies.

BRC will provide training on Issue 8 from October and auditing to the new standard will commence in February 2019. BRC auditors will be required to review food safety plans and seek evidence via a senior management meeting to determine how the plan was developed, resourced, disseminated among the workforce, and is being managed and reviewed. Where organisations have not implemented a food safety plan, this will be recorded as a major non-conformity. 

There is no quick fix for changing food safety culture within an organisation, as the BRC acknowledges, and as such, businesses are encouraged not to restrict their plan to 12 months when a more realistic timescale might be three to five years. Furthermore, organisations are more likely to succeed in changing food safety culture where they prioritise two or three relevant core issues to enhance their food safety culture, rather than taking a generalised approach with limited impact.

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The key challenge facing organisations concerning food safety culture is that they historically over-anticipate the level of commitment and under-appreciate the level of resources required to establish and maintain a proactive safety culture, in terms of control, co-operation, communication and competence. The reality is that organisations’ proactive cultural plans often fail to gain traction due to work pressures and a failure to nurture a proactive cultural mindset.

BRC’s food safety cultural requirements have been a long time in coming. The true test for food manufacturers now will be whether they can embrace the new standard fully and avoid a scenario in which their good intentions dissipate into an academic exercise.

Derek Watson is senior lecturer at the faculty of business, law and tourism at the University of Sunderland