The challenges in developing a global food safety culture were explored at the Global Food Safety Conference 2011 in London last week, 16-18 February 2011.
More than 600 delegates from 60 countries joined the three-day event to share ideas in managing food safety from both retailer and supplier perspectives.
Derek Hopkins, international trade law & technical manager at Tesco UK, explored the retailer’s implementation of a cross-border in-store food safety programme and the cultural and organisational challenges it faced. It had a clear focus, said Hopkins.
“Managing food safety should follow simple principles,” he said.
Hopkins told delegates Tesco had a long history in managing food safety, especially overseas where it has more floor space than in the UK. Tesco’s international strategy – to be flexible, act local, maintain focus and develop capability – impacts on food safety management systems as well, he said.
Hopkins said Tesco had gained valuable knowledge of world markets but recognised it required the right formats to succeed such as convenience stores in Japan, wet markets in China and a joint venture wholesale model in India.
Hopkins said the group’s technical strategy was “giving customers more reasons to trust the Tesco brand every day” while the operations team aimed to provide the “safest and cleanest stores in the industry”.
Hopkins presented Tesco’s delivery of food safety standards at group, country and store level including agreeing and establishing policies and standards, the recruitment and training of local teams, measuring performance and store audits.
Hopkins said the delivery of food standards in store comprised six key processes: cleaning, personal hygiene, cross contamination, temperature control, food storage and pest control.
Stores have developed to manage those procedures, he said, but in areas where third parties were involved such as contract cleaning and temperature control, audits and proper maintenance controls are in place.
Similarly with pest control. “Good housekeeping is essential but it requires routine monitoring to make sure you are on top of pest control,” said Hopkins.
Different pest profiles in overseas markets meant it was not possible to have a group pest control contractor, however.
Hopkins stressed the importance of simplicity in imposing food safety standards in store – policies and rules should be accessible, he said. Beware of complicated routines. Training must be relevant to the target audience and in international markets, pictures rather than words, were more easily understood.
Hopkins highlighted factors that can influence food safety standards in store including the local market, design and build and local legislation.
In China, for example, Tesco has included wet markets in its stores but the standards are very different to the domestic wet markets.
“We have not gone native,” said Hopkins. But it is a balance, he said. If sea food is too cold, consumers suspect it has been frozen previously. Similarly, retailers need to be aware of the storage facilities shoppers may have in their own homes. Chinese customers are not interested in longer shelf life products and are happy to shop frequently, he said.
In some Central European markets, physical barriers are required around the deli areas and there is a history of compliance, said Hopkins; while in Asian markets, there are different rules for storing hot food.
Store design and build, such as refrigerators with doors, can have an impact too.
“They are not always well received by customers who like quick access to contents,” he said.
The use of sub-contractors can create mismatches in delivery of consistent design, while the acquisition of stores can bring more issues than with new builds, which provide greater control.
Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, candidly revealed how the Canadian company is instilling a food safety culture in the organisation following an outbreak of listeria from one of its plants in 2008, which resulted in 23 deaths and the largest product recall in history.
McCain described the journey from “failure to future” and the role of cultural values and disciplines in food safety.
He said prior to the events of August 2008, Maple Leaf had a “big commitment to food safety” and an active environment monitoring programme including listeria tests. One month prior to the outbreak, it had achieved a 95% audit result.
But what it did not know was that in equipment grew “a harbourage point for listeria that proved to be deadly”.
“We did not have the rigour to investigate or the depth of understanding of the risks we faced,” said McCain.
The company was notified of the outbreak by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
McCain described the news as the most “profound crisis in our history” and said the company responded in ways “that are rooted in our values”.
The response focused on three areas, he said:
- Assuming accountability and consequences
- Transparency of communications
- Taking very decisive and impactful action to address the issues
It hired food safety expert, Dr Randy Huffman, as its chief food safety officer to lead a robust food safety strategy, which identified all risks and appropriate mitigation plans.
McCain said one outcome was a 8.30am call virtually every day, led by Huffman.
“Every day we talk about the consequences of the results of every positive environmental finding we have throughout the organisation and every plant manager is held to account for their actions and outcomes,” he said.
McCain said Maple Leaf was constantly increasing the rigour of its protocols and food safety is the commitment of everyone in the organisation.
“We means everybody,” he said. “Food safety culture is rooted less in what you hear but more in what you feel.
“Our story is still unwinding but we are determined to see it through – it’s the only way we feel we can bring meaning to the loss of 23 lives on our watch.”
Chris Griffith, technical director at Von Holy Consulting, South Africa, argued food safety culture was itself an emerging risk factor – an activity or event that increases the likelihood of food poisoning or food being unsafe.
Griffith stressed the importance of collective food safety practices and importance of food safety management systems but said compliance was also an essential element.
He said 97% of outbreaks were a result of food handler error and highlighted a study of over 30,000 food handling activities, which revealed non compliance was quite evident.
Training is important but not solely what behaviour is about, he said. In a further study, food handlers were invited to relate the food safety behaviours, which they knew. Four per cent said that often they don’t carry out all the food safety behaviours they knew about.
Griffith told delegates the industry response to blame individuals for non-compliance was flawed.
“The causative reason for non-compliance is the culture of the business,” he said, adding management carries the biggest burden of non-compliance.
Highlighting the recent Ecoli outbreak in South Wales, Griffith reported it was the culture of the company, which was criticised in the findings.
Culture is increasingly cited in different reports and papers relating to outbreaks and is therefore an emerging risk factor, said Griffith.
Food safety culture is learned, he argued. “When there is more than one person doing it, it becomes a culture,” he said. “It’s the way we do things around here mentality.”
Positive food safety cultures promote morale and lower staff turnover and don’t rely on intimidation, he said.
Sara Mortimore, vp quality assurance and regulatory affairs, Land O’Lakes in the US, demonstrated how company cultures can be transformed with a case study from the motor industry. Mortimore revealed how Toyota partnered with General Motors to re-open a California car plant, and re-hired staff who previously both drank and had sexual relations at work.
Toyota wanted to manufacture small cars in the US and GM wanted expertise in compact car technology, said Mortimore.
“Toyota believed their system would change the bad workers into good ones and they showed what good looked like by taking 30 workers at a time from Fremont CA to Toyota.”
Mortimore told delegates how the workers were transformed within 12 months but it took “huge commitment from the top”.
“Employees don’t care what you know, until they know that you care,” she said.
Jean-Jacques Vandenheede, director retailer insights, Nielsen (Belgium), told delegates how social media is driving change in consumer perception.
Vandenheede said companies had no control over social media or conversations on line. More and more people are using social media but the numbers are becoming irrelevant because they are so big, he said. But it meant, “the traditional model for communication is becoming outdated”.
Concepts such as controlled, organised and production driven are disappearing, he said; while the term ‘false’ was most closely linked to advertising in its traditional sense.
Vandenheede said a TV show in Belgium had tested the claims of 66 advertising campaigns and only seven had been verified.
Increasingly shoppers only trust recommendations from people, he said; and revealed 26% of all conversations on line include brands.
Social networks like Twitter enable conversations to multiple, said Vandenheede.
“A few number of people will influence purchasing behaviour because of the amplification effect,” he said.
He also highlighted Heathrow airport’s choice of communicating with stranded passengers during the December snow via Twitter.
But he warned: “The goal is not to control the conversation – you can’t. The goal is to create opportunities for people to feel ownership of the brand.”
Vandenheede featured Evian’s roller babies campaign, which has received 34m views and fueled a 5% sales increase in the UK.
Consumers also place more trust in the media than with manufacturers if there is a food safety issue, he added; even though they believe the responsibility of providing safe food lies with the manufacturer.
Vandenheede said the next five to 10 years will drive mobile networking and advised delegates that if the future is all about conversations, the best way to start is as good listeners.
“Listen, learn and evaluate, but forget control,” he said.
Gillian Kelleher, vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Wegmans Food Markets, revealed how the retailer has integrated the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) into its business and its value.
The family-owned supermarket operates 77 130,000-145,000sq ft stores in five states – soon to be six – and has sales of $5.6bn. It employs 40,000 people and has been listed for 10 years in the Fortune 100 list of the best companies to work for and is currently ranked third.
According to Kelleher, Wegmans has a strong family ethos and a commitment to customers that, “everyday you get our best”.
Kelleher said the company relies heavily on customer feedback and it receives 4,000 so-called ‘love letters’ from customers each year. Last year, it received 3,075 complimentary pieces of feedback, she said.
Trust in Wegmans is a common theme among shoppers, said Kelleher, and revealed customer research, which showed food enthusiasts and families strongly agree they trust Wegman’s products. New families, in particular, statistically have more trust, she said.
However, Wegmans operates in a global economy where recalls and food borne illnesses are apparent, she said.
Kelleher listed recent Wegmans’ own brand recalls (six in 2010) and its overall recalls (65 in 2010) and told delegates why, in the spirit of continuous improvement, it had chosen to incorporate GFSI into its business.
Launched in May 2000, GFSI is a business-driven initiative to ensure food safety for consumers. It invited food safety schemes to be benchmarked against a standard document, now in its sixth edition.
Kelleher told delegates what Wegmans liked about the scheme: consistent standards, checks and balances, expert auditors, fewer audits, global flexibility and a general raising of the bar.
Kelleher said Wegmans wrote to its suppliers in June 2008 explaining why it felt GFSI was important and why it wanted them to be certified to any one of the standards in the scheme.
“Suppliers listened and worked on it,” she said. “Suppliers liked it – it meant less work and helped to standardise.”
Kelleher reported 75% of Wegmans branded suppliers are now certified to GFSI and its goal for 100% is on target with a further 35 suppliers due to be certified by the end of March and 19 by the end of June. By the year end, 92% will be on board, she said.
Wegmans will accept any of the standards benchmarked to GFSI.
“If it’s good enough for GFSI, it’s good enough for us,” she said.
Now the retailer is involving its own manufacturing operations including a bake shop and culinary innovation centre. The centre works with chefs to create recipes such as soups and sauces, which are then scaled up and farmed out to larger producers. It is being certified in the next few weeks, said Kelleher.
The bake shop is used for research and development and is also being certified to GFSI. According to Kelleher, its practices will be shared to help reach smaller suppliers on the way to certification.
“Wegmans is fully committed to GFSI – it’s raising the bar for our customers and our industry,” she said.
Carletta Ooton, vp chief quality and product integrity officer, The Coca-Cola Company, focused on the implementation of GFSI schemes upstream in the supply chain.
It’s a considerable one. Coca-Cola, which celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2011, owns 500 brands and 3,000 different products around the world. It produces and sells in 206 countries, delivering 1.6bn servings a day. It operates 13m vending machines and is the world’s largest juice producer and has ambitions to grow in the dairy category.
Ooton said the company’s 2020 vision was to double in size to 3.2bn servings.
“Doubling our business is an amazing goal but has everything to do with food safety and GFSI,” she said.
Protecting food safety and quality is paramount, said Ooton and GFSI provided a comparable audit approach. It reduced duplication, drove continuous improvement, cost efficiency and provided confidence across the supply chain.
“Our commitment to quality and food safety has never wavered but adopting GFSI has really been an advance,” she said. “It’s now part of our culture.”