It’s one thing to have a corporate food safety program but entirely another to make sure the executive suite is aware of its importance and the rest of the company buys into a food safety culture, experts said at the 2014 Food Safety Summit.
Food safety programs must be well-funded, integrated in all systems and departments, and receive support starting at the CEO level.
For food safety directors, it begins by having an elevator pitch ready at all times to grab the attention of higher-ups.
For Jorge Hernandez, senior VP for Food Safety & Quality Assurance at US Foods, the line is “I’m the one who is keeping you out of jail,” which he used when he met his new CEO for the first time. It got him a meeting with the chief exec a week later, during which he was able to explain everything the company was doing to ensure safety and protect the company from legal liability.
Hernandez said staff and programs go away or are not funded or valued because their leaders fail to understand the importance of food safety from a business perspective. That requires not only getting the attention of decision-makers, but speaking their language and translating complex science into concepts they understand. For example, food safety equals longer shelf life.
Sharon Wood, food safety director for the Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B, said along with an elevator pitch, it is a good idea to build strong relationships within the company and with outside experts.
“Get out there and get to know the folks who have direct lines up to CEO and COO and president,” she said. It is important to stay relevant, which means staying current on the industry, understanding related issues such as finance, and having something important to say at each meeting. It’s being ready to pass along updates as events unfold.
Keeping everyone in the company involved in a food safety culture is important because it only takes one person to break the chain and cause problems, said Tyson Foods senior VP Rick Roop, who oversees food safety and quality assurance. “It’s important for everyone to drive that culture,” he said, adding the importance of food safety to the company and families should be explained at a consumer level.
At Chiquita Brands, there is a food safety and technology committee that reports to the board, and quality and food safety are core parts of strategy conversations, said Courtney Parker, senior VP for Food Safety and Salad Quality. She said plant managers report directly to the corporate quality group and consultants are brought in for additional expertise on some issues.
While food safety is “farm to fork,” she said, not all operations are under Chiquita control. Some farms are independently owned but as far as food safety is concerned, Parker said “even when we don’t own them we act like we do.”