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COVID-19 and the Food Safety Culture

I have received many articles via email recently outlining excellent strategies for implementing enhanced personal protective measures for employees working in essential roles such as food manufacturing. This information is greatly appreciated, and I am glad there are infectious disease experts willing to share their knowledge to protect us all. There is still a role for those of us who promote adherence to a culture of excellence in food safety, even in times such as these when everything other than COVID-19 seems to fall by the wayside. The long-term benefits to the company of adopting ISO 45001-based worker participation strategies will be felt far into the future if your company can strike while the iron is hot and maximize the benefits of a cohesive organizational culture.


There is so much news about Covid-19 and how it can, might, will affect us. How do know what to believe so much of what we are hearing contradicts what we heard last week and likely what we will hear tomorrow. The concept of ISO 45001 based compliance is an excellent structure to apply to our organization, but it takes time. Now we need to look at internal communication. What do we need to communicate and how can we do this effectively. It may take time for a member or team to evaluate the news and do the research to learn the facts; however, this investment is critical to our culture. it is important that our associates hear what matters based on the facts. We can do this for them evaluate, investigate and communicate the facts.


I can preach to the choir about the nature of food safety risks and the fact that it only takes one deviation from our controls to result in a massive disaster – but I would be preaching to the choir. We need practical tips for retaining and motivating our staff at a time when it is hard to be competitive and attractive as an employer. Food safety record keeping can sometimes be perceived as a drudge to be endured, rather than a goal to be achieved.

As a proponent of ISO-based systems in general, I have become a fan of the ISO 45001 focus on worker participation in personal health and safety programs. We as a team promote the opportunity to encourage this concept within the food safety culture as well. Common approaches to the challenge of creating a system for listening and providing feedback to all associates performing work under the control of your organization include the adoption of a suggestion box or anonymous electronic web form where anyone can submit feedback. The key to making these systems work is the workers’ perception of responsiveness from the organization. If the suggestion box is perceived as a black hole where good ideas go to die, don’t expect any participation. We recommend that management identifies a team of associates to monitor these suggestions and they choose the ones that are presented to the management team.


This ties closely in with the idea of internal communication. Organizations must have an effective mechanism for communicating with workers. Depending on the desired message, there are many effective approaches to this challenge. Post printed updates inside the bathroom stalls; it’s a remarkably effective communication tool, and the humor is only a side benefit. Hold town hall meetings that allow anyone to get up and speak. Have the site-level leadership buy lunch for the staff once per quarter and speak on the most pressing issues while they eat. Use paycheck stuffers or, for electronic payroll delivery systems, have a pop-up that appears at log-in and requires a check box for acknowledgement. Supervisors that are remarkably good at motivating their staff may acknowledge them publicly. This energizes everyone. Create a reward system that gives public verbal recognition to staff members seen engaging in positive cultural behaviors. Have a competition between departments for who can score the highest on their KPIs. Get creative!


Be honest with your staff. There may be some belt-tightening measures coming down the pike for all of us. Pretending its not happening doesn’t help anyone. Communicate as honestly and openly as you can. Explain that the cost cutting measures are not aimed at lining anyone’s pockets. Rather, we need to keep our doors open so we can all keep getting paychecks. Treat your staff as you would want to be treated in the same situation, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the mature level of response from those employees you are highly motivated to retain. Set the bar high, and people will rise to it.


I hope these practical strategies will help you to retain and even optimize your food safety culture during this difficult time.

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