The US Food & Drug Administration’s New Era for Food Safety has a fourth pillar focused on the human aspect of food safety. All the protocols and procedures can be in place, but without a culture of food safety, they will not be effective. As bakers and other food manufacturers continue to endure workforce challenges, a culture of food safety will become even more critical.

“The baking industry is feeling the pinch of tight employment resources,” said Meaghan Meyer, senior vice president of food safety and quality for Indianapolis-based CraftMark Bakery and co-chair for ABA’s food technical regulatory affairs professional group. “The shortage of workers is hitting us hard and causing increased turnover, and bakers are turning to temp workers to fill that gap. That leads to the need for additional training and resources to make sure that no mistakes are made.”

While FDA plans to work on best practices going forward, GFSI published its “A Culture of Food Safety” paper in 2018, which provides broad guidelines on establishing and fostering a culture of food safety. Buy-in at every level of the company is key as culture is a top-down initiative. Communication of expectations and follow-through are other key points to developing a workplace culture.

CraftMark’s top leaders are involved in the food safety teams, and every member of the bakery team must attend food safety culture training to understand the company’s priorities.

“It ultimately is ensuring that our actions match our words,” Ms. Meyer said. “Engaging employees at all levels of the organization to understand why food safety is critical to success and then reinforcing that through conversations and training.”

CraftMark follows this up with not only audits but also employee surveys to get feedback on their perception of our food safety culture.

“Do they feel like they’re listened to? Are they asked to compromise on food safety?” Ms. Meyer said, giving examples. “This is just one of the outlets we give our employees to report back to us.” 

Another key part of food safety is the sanitation team, and a culture that prioritizes food safety will be critical to keeping employees on this team.

“How do you motivate the sanitation team and help them feel good about what they do because you can’t replace the sanitation team,” said  Joe Stout, founder and general manager of Commercial Food Sanitation LLC. “You can automate mixing, slicing, packaging, but it’s really hard to automate sanitation. So the question is how do we get those people in place and motivated to do their jobs well.”

A culture that prioritizes food safety will also prioritize sanitation and show the team that their work is valued. Mr. Stout also recommended bakers take on an attitude of smart sanitation: that is sanitation is the responsibility of everyone in the bakery, not just the sanitation team. 

“We need to move closer to that, and that would be part of the cultural revolution that we need that FDA talks about in its New Era of Food Safety,” he said. 

All of this comes back to training, communication and accountability, which will become pivotal as bakers bring on new employees — many of whom have never worked in food manufacturing — and move forward into this new frontier of proactive food safety.

“I don’t think anyone goes to work not to do a good job, and that is true of food safety,” said Judi Lazaro, senior category director, food safety, AIB International. “Mistakes happen because people aren’t trained properly or held accountable. With the increasingly inexperienced workforce, I hope the entire industry pays attention to education.”

The future of food safety may be leaning on high-tech digital tools, but it will be rooted in the things that keep bakeries running smoothly: efficient processes, well-communicated protocols and effective training.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Centennial Report: Food Safety, click here.