Management Commitment – The Buck Stops At The Top

It is likely that the development of your food safety management system is in response to external pressure - normally from a customer either local or overseas. Research has shown that external pressure is not sufficient to sustain a food safety management system. The internal pressures of the company business objectives are far more effective. I think we can agree that most food safety management systems start off as a “grudge purchase” but if that attitude continues, no employee at the company will ever take food safety seriously – particularly if this attitude prevails among senior managers.
So what is necessary from management?

1. It’s YOUR policy

All food safety management standards call for a food safety policy. This is something that should not be written by a consultant or the food safety coordinator. This one is for you to write. We only write policies about things that are important – like disciplinary hearings, annual leave, company cars…and food safety. This policy should reflect the importance you and your senior management team place on food safety. All other documents must line up with this policy. It will guide all decisions relating to food safety in the future. Make sure you show your commitment when you out your pen to paper.

2. Delegate but do not abdicate

It is unreasonable to think that any senior manage could be involved with the food safety management system in detail. You will have to appoint a reliable person to administer the system for you. Make sure this person is confident in working with people especially management. A manager would be the best as this removes any hierarchical issues. Make sure the incumbent has excellent attention to detail skills. Look at their existing workload – there may be someone you trust who would be perfect for the job but they are already overloaded to compensate for other managers not doing their jobs – treat the problem before you further overload – you will land up losing that person to burnout. You will need someone to manage the system as a full–time job…so start planning for that.

3. Know your risks

What are the food safety risks at your facility? The internationally accepted approach to food safety is risk assessment. There is no point pouring time, effort and resources into issues that are not risks to your process or food product. If you process a dry product, it is unlikely you will have issues with vegetative pathogens – they won’t grow. But, you may use metal and there is a risk of metal shards in your product –
you should spend money on a metal detector. The key is to be honest with yourself and make sure you have reliable information. Get it if you haven’t got it and make sure you get at least 2 sources that concur. Opinions are not always scientifically based. The information may not be convenient – a metal detector is costly but the cost of a metal claim could be higher. Remember you do have a legal and moral right to ensure the food you produce does not harm the consumer in any way.

4. Get a budget

Know the extent of your commitment – before you start. The costs can be significant depending on the state of your facility. Make sure there are no surprises. Conduct a gap analysis audit on your entire facility – and BE HONEST with yourself. Make sure you consider training, building, maintenance, new equipment, new cleaning equipment, new protective clothing, consulting fees, audit costs…Then put the numbers together. Now you can plan and manage the costs. Many food safety teams land up disillusioned when the money is not forthcoming. By putting together a realistic budget everyone knows when money can be spent and on what so there can be no disappointment.

5. Get a return on your investment

Someone said “we manage what we measure”. This applies to food safety. You want to see a difference as a result of the investment. Make sure you set specific objectives for the food safety management system, delegate these as key performance areas to your staff and then measure them. To ensure commitment to food safety, linking these to salary increases or bonuses is very effective. Ensure the objectives are spread across the organization. The food safety coordinator cannot influence maintenance issues or distribution issues –those managers should be measuring those activities. There is some evidence to suggest that a food safety management system can save you costs – FIFO systems ensure you do not have wastage on ingredients and helps to manage inventory, temperature control ensures shelf life is maintained, cleaning reduces spoilage. Make sure you capitalise on these from a business point of view – not just audit findings. Review the achievement of your objectives regularly and formally with trends. If you are not getting the results – investigate and take corrective action.

6. Lead by example

It’s on old one but nonetheless true. Your staff are watching your every move and reaction to food safety. Make sure you know how to wear the hairnet, make sure you know how to wash your hands…Attend the food safety training. Comment on issues when you are in the production area – make sure you take notice of the small things that take a long time to change like hand washing. Make a big deal when you catch someone doing something RIGHT.

7. Make sure you can trust your internal control systems

Many senior managers make the mistake of putting too much reliance on external audit results. If you achieve the 80% you think the system is functioning well. This is dangerous. You know the amount of effort that went into preparing for that audit, you know the discussions that went one about potential non-conformances. In other words the audit results may only highlight what you got away with. If the auditor identifies serious non-conformances that means your own internal control systems are flawed. Make sure you implement an effective internal auditing system. Your won people know the system far better than the most competent external auditor. Make a point of making a BIG deal about internal audit results – they represent the true state of your system. Be prepared to hear bad news – don’t shoot the messengers – they will stop telling you the truth. Make sure your internal auditing team is well trained, make internal audits a key performance area and take action if they resort to hygiene and housekeeping inspections. This is NOT what you want. External audits should then confirm what you already know.

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