What Does A Culture of Food Safety Look Like?
What exactly is a culture of food safety? We talk about it a lot in produce food safety circles and there is great focus on how to create one within a company or organization. But explaining what the concept really means can be difficult. The LGMA is attempting to answer the question through this blog post – which is the first in a series of six in-depth blog posts we will launch in 2015. Our hope is that you will read, learn, discuss and share these blog posts with others.
When it comes to explaining the culture of food safety — there is usually more than one answer. In the following blog post, you’ll read about a terrific example that illustrates the culture of food safety that exits throughout the California leafy greens community today. The story is told by Drew McDonald, who is currently, Vice President, Quality Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs with Church Brothers Produce. Drew has spent 21 years in the leafy greens industry working on both the supply and buying sides at different points in his career. So, not only has Drew “been-there-done-that” but he is able to see the tremendous benefits of the LGMA program for farmers, leafy greens handlers, retail and foodservice customers and, ultimately, for consumers.
According to Drew:
The most important accomplishment of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is that it has put California leafy greens producers on the same page when it comes to food safety. With the LGMA, everyone is united behind a set of common, science-based food safety practices and we are all collecting information in a similar, consistent manner. This is preventing illnesses and it allows us to improve.
For Drew, the benefits of the LGMA are evident. But Drew knows that not everyone is as convinced as he is. One day, very early in the LGMA’s history, he faced a very tough job in in convincing a skeptical buyer from a major chain store about the real change that has occurred with food safety and leafy greens. Although Drew had spent the morning giving this buyer an up-close-and-personal look at the food safety practices in place in his company’s harvest operations – the buyer remained unimpressed.
“Sure your food safety practices are in place today,” said the buyer. “You knew I was coming and you prepared your crews for my visit. I just don’t believe what I saw today is representative of what happens every day.”
Thinking fast for a way to convince this important customer, Drew had an idea. It started with a stop at the local sporting goods store where he purchased a set of high-powered binoculars. From there, he took the buyer to a vista point that overlooked several leafy greens fields currently being harvested by multiple harvest companies for his own firm and from other leafy greens handlers in the area.
He handed the buyer the binoculars and said, “Go ahead, take a very close look at what these crews are doing. They can’t see us, but they’re still taking the same precautions they took while you and I were down there close to them.”
The buyer – still reluctant to give in – inquired, “Which one of those is your crew?’
Drew pointed to one of the harvest companies and said,
“I think it’s that one there. But here’s the point – take a look at all of them. They’re all following the same practices. Because that is how we do things in the California leafy greens industry now. All of us.”
Only then did the buyer get it.
For Drew – and eventually the buyer in question – there could not have been a better illustration of the ‘culture of food safety’ that now exists throughout the California leafy greens industry. The LGMA is the tool leafy greens producers use to make sure that food safety is a priority and it is a platform that will be very valuable if anything ever goes wrong again.
“We all want to do the right thing. The LGMA helps us to do that in a uniform, consistent way.” says Drew. “If only I could take everyone out to see how it works from atop that hill.”
We certainly wish we could take everyone out to a leafy greens field so they can see first-hand this comprehensive food safety program at work. In the meantime, we can provide some tools to help show what we mean by a ‘culture of food safety.’
Please take the time to watch a video interview with Drew McDonald as he explains this idea further. We’ve also provided an infographic to help further illustrate the concept. We encourage you to share this blog, the video and infographic with your customers, colleagues and friends. Since we can’t bring everyone out to the field, we’ll just have to bring the field to them.