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Building Food Safety Into the Company Culture

28 September 2012

Maple Leaf Foods learned a hard lesson about food safety and it has transformed its commitment to Food Safety manifested in a drive toward embedding great food safety behaviours into the existing company culture, following the outbreak of Listeria traced back to the company in 2008.

This was one of the major lessons learned from the incident that was told to the International Congress of Meat Science and Technology in Montreal this year.

In a paper "Building Food Safety Into the Company Culture" by Randy D. Huffman and Lone Jespersen from Maple Leaf Consumer Foods they said teh company's focus on combining technical risk analysis with behavioural sciences has led to the development and deployment of a food safety strategy deeply rooted in company values and management commitment.

The link between Maple Leaf Foods that had proven and well tested food safety and security measures in place covered by a full HACCP system and a serious outbreak of Listeriosis in Canada, was first made on 23 August 2008.

The source of the Listeria contamination was found to come from deep inside slicing machines on lines 8 and 9. Although rigorous sanitation of this equipment was completed on a daily basis in accordance with supplier and company procedures, areas were found where bacteria may have accumulated thereby avoiding the routine sanitation process.

Other environmental factors were found relating to the age and location of the building, condensation, airflow and drain back-ups which could have contributed to the contamination. Management of these issues, in combination with inconsistent compliance to GMPs within the plant might also have contributed to the overall risk.

A combination of technical and behavioural deficiencies and assumptions were found to be at the root of the problem which ended up taking the lives of 23 Canadians.

Huffman and Jespersen said it led to the transformation of the Maple Leaf Foods food safety strategy and a public commitment from the company’s CEO to never let such an event happen again on his watch.

"The new strategy placed focus on people and systems equally, and was carefully communicated with a vision that all employees could support and appreciate. The stated food safety vision is to 'always produce safe, great tasting food manufactured in a safe environment'." they said in tehir paper.

Five areas of focus were adopted to drive the change that was deemed necessary to effectively implement the food safety strategy and improve the food safety behaviours embedded within the Maple Leaf Foods Culture.

  1. Governance and Portfolio Management
  2. Education & Training
  3. Communication
  4. Systems & Processes
  5. Action Measures

The company’s Food Safety and Quality organizational structure was changed to improve governance and lines of decision making and two new councils were formed.

The company food safety education and training approach was redeveloped to align learning objectives and methods to the new strategy and to ensure that the funding and resource needs were in place to execute the plan.

The process for food safety communication was changed to ensure that all Maple Leaf Foods staff has access to consistent messages regarding performance, industry news and key “must know” food safety processes.

As part of its Food Safety strategy, Maple Leaf Foods committed to having all sites certified to a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked scheme. This commitment was actioned in 2010-2011, with all 56 MLF manufacturing sites certified.

How food safety performance is measured and acted upon was also enhanced as part of the food safety strategy rollout. This was done to ensure that critical discussions take place and that actions are followed up on, whether they involve an investigation or the implementation of improvements.

Through the five tactics Huffman and Jespersen said the company has begun the journey toward food safety transformation through adoption of best practices for systems and people.

"Our approach to food safety has been one where we treat food safety as a non-competitive issue and have been open to sharing our learning’s about what happened during the Listeria outbreak, how we changed due to this tragic event and how we as an organisation will continue to take a leadership position in food safety to continuously raise the bar for food safety across our industry," they said.

"We also have benefitted immensely from learning best practices from numerous other companies in North America as well as around the world. We trust this brief story will bring value to others as we continue to learn and improve."

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

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