By Rafael Olivares, EAS Independent Consultant
A career in food safety is not an easy one. It is a stressful profession that requires dedication and a commitment to learn continuously and to teach, to communicate effectively to an audience, in most cases, obstinate, and not open to listen. After all, the food safety language is not easy to understand. It is for most people a boring topic, not interesting. Moreover, engaging in meeting food safety standards is considered cumbersome, not value added, costly and an inconvenience to the business flow.
Communicating the food safety language has become more difficult due to all the terms used and requirements, typically known with acronyms for programs or institutions. We can’t blame others when they are confused and uninterested when in the communication, we use reference to the need to implement programs such as GMP, HACCP, HARPC, VACCP, or when we talk about GFSI schemes or FSMA regulations, only to mention a few.
A food safety professional has a difficult task to effectively communicate and convince. In this communication, the food safety professional must be able to stress out cost-benefits and the impact if an effective plan is not developed. It all starts by making people understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what it is a true food safety concern.
Convincing the Audience
It is not uncommon to have upper-level managers question the concerns due to unsanitary conditions or unsanitary practices. Presence of mold, algae, mildew, insects, and contaminants are evidence of poor housekeeping. As food safety professionals we might have managers disagree with our concerns stating that these issues are simply an aesthetic matter with no impact on the safety of the food product. Hopefully, that is correct, and the lack of hygiene does not result in the growth of pathogenic microorganisms, but……how likely is it? Fear what you do not see.
Food Safety and Legality
As leaders in food safety the effort also focusses in communicating the legal implications of not meeting food safety practices. The only defense is prevention, and it must be understood that if the company manufactures and distributes a product that causes someone to be sick or injured, the plant is going to pay if the situation could have been prevented. The company must prove due diligence in setting up programs to avoid the situation.
Think of the food safety program as a friendly insurance policy you hope you never have to use but, if things go wrong, it can see you through. It also provides a competitive advantage over non-conforming competitors, and it truly puts the industry in the driver’s seat of preventing public health hazards. I like to compare the food safety plan to the “Get Out of Jail, Free” card of a monopoly game.