How Safety Culture in Food Businesses Cuts Costs

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Ideas & Debate

How Safety Culture in Food Businesses Cuts Costs


The food safety agenda already occupies a prominent place on the world stage. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Despite the efforts made to establish food safety systems mainly in medium to large food business operators (FBOs) in Kenya, food safety incidents remain a major problem which in many cases, is not reported, but also leads to waste and loss, damage to reputation and reputation. health consequences.

It is wrongly assumed that food safety is only about the processes and implementation of food safety management systems (FSMS). That once you have done this, the safety of food processed, prepared and served or sold at retail will be guaranteed.

Setting up an FSMS in your FBO is just one part of it. The other key element is creating and instilling a culture of food safety in your food business. Focusing solely on FSMS without a concomitant change in staff behavior and management attitude towards food safety is like buying a laptop or phone without the software to run it.

The food safety culture is what makes the food safety management system effective. Food security is therefore more behavioral than system management.

According to a recent report, acute foodborne illness kills 5,000 people and sends 325,000 to hospital each year in the United States alone. The financial cost to the United States is estimated at $152 billion a year in health care and other economic losses.

Although I couldn’t find similar data on Kenya, I imagine the cost to our country of foodborne illness is equally astronomical. The U.S. Foods and Drugs Administration estimates that implementing food safety programs will result in nearly a million fewer illnesses per year, saving the U.S. food industry nearly $2 billion. dollars per year.

My dealings with small and medium food enterprises over the years in Africa have revealed a feeling where food security is sometimes seen as an avoidable cost instead of an investment. Processors or food service providers and food retailers are wary of increased costs when implementing food safety systems, especially in the short term.

The cost of implementing a food safety program varies depending on the size of the FBO and the segment of the food industry. But core processes would center on prerequisite programs and sanitation standard operating procedures as well as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan implementation and employee training.

Additional costs may be incurred to obtain and maintain certification to internationally recognized food safety standards such as ISO 22000 or FSSC 22000, among others. Although smallholder food operators may bear the greatest financial burden associated with implementing food security programs, the benefits outweigh the long-term costs.

The implementation of food safety practices should be seen as an investment in the food industry and is essential to the long-term viability of food business operators.

Although cost may be a determining factor in the decision to implement new processes, the long-term benefits associated with improved food safety, which include reduced foodborne illness and healthcare costs, Staff turnover and loss of valuable man-hours, less legal costs and loss of market share due to declining reputation must also be taken into account.

An ineffective FSMS will undoubtedly also result in food waste due to food safety incidents that result in the destruction or recall of food already on the market suspected of being contaminated, or reduced shelf life due to contaminated food. by spoilage microbes.

While it is impossible to guarantee that you as an FBO will not encounter food safety implications, with an effective FSMS you can proactively minimize the risk of food safety issues and make them an extremely rare, and with less serious consequences if it occurs. .

So how do you improve the efficiency of your food safety system? From simply implementing an SMSA to a behavior-based SMSA focused on creating a culture of food safety in your business.

Food safety culture is not necessarily a new concept, but businesses and professionals tend to focus more on testing, inspecting, auditing and implementing safety management systems. eating. But having well-defined standards and processes is not enough if the human factor is not integrated into the process.

Food security culture focuses on changing people’s behavior and behavior-based FSMS training emphasizes the WHY in addition to the WHAT and HOW of food security; it goes beyond systems and processes. A staff member is obligated to do the right thing if they understand why they are doing something and the consequences of not doing it that way.

Food safety becomes second nature to them – doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Similarly, management and leadership of food organizations are also likely to invest resources and spend more time on food safety if they also understand the why and visualize the connection between food safety culture and cost reduction.

If you’re an FBO, you’re not just in the food production, processing, or preparation and retail business, but you’re essentially in the food safety business. Therefore, inculcating a culture of food safety will lead to effective food prevention, control and monitoring, which in turn will lead to a reduction in food safety violations and, therefore, costs.

When the Food and Feed Control and Coordination Bill comes into force in Kenya, there will undoubtedly be a cost of compliance for food business operators, but this should be seen as an investment. which will result in long-term savings.

The most important asset in FBOs is food workers and therefore investing in education and training as well as embedding a strong food safety culture in the workforce and your FSMS is your ticket to sustainable profitability.

It is high time for the food industry to move from a food safety management system to a behavior-based food safety management system with a food safety culture as an integral element. This means training management and staff on how to embed a culture of food safety into all your processes. Remember that food safety is about behavior.

Dr. Liavoga is a researcher and food safety expert

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