I spend a lot of time thinking about food.
Although I defend food companies in high-profile foodborne illness outbreak lawsuits throughout the country, the majority of my time is spent working with clients to improve the quality of their operations from a risk exposure and brand protection standpoint. This is my favorite and most rewarding job -- working closely with food companies who, although not necessarily facing a large-scale outbreak or lawsuit, are nevertheless reaching out for advice on how to avoid both.
The easiest way for any food company to produce a safer product (and, by extension, to lower its risk), is to develop and adopt a robust food safety culture. But many companies struggle with the concept because it is too foreign, or they believe it will cost too much.
Many corporate leaders come from places other than the food industry, so they have little experience in food safety, and thus no corresponding desire to invest in the development of a food safety culture.
That’s why I started thinking about ways to address the food safety culture challenge from a different angle. As experts, we can’t just keep telling food companies they have to adopt a food safety culture, we have to help them do it.
So, how do apples and oranges play a role?
Well, we often characterize apples and oranges as being quite different. The reality, however, is that if we take a moment to think about it, the two fruits are really quite similar. They’re about the same cost, the same size, the same shape and the same weight. And, they’re usually placed in the same drawer in our refrigerator. To appreciate the significant parallels, we only need to open our eyes a little bit wider.
The same is true when it comes to the concepts of culture-driven workplace safety and food safety.
Most corporate leaders are intimately familiar with the concept of occupational safety. Notably, in virtually every workplace in America, the concept is driven home constantly. Everyone knows it, everyone gets it, and everyone accepts it.
And, most important, the language and messaging used to teach workplace safety is eerily similar (if not in most cases identical) to the language and messaging used to promote food safety culture. These parallels make the job of promoting a strong food safety culture in any organization exceedingly simple.
Indeed, companies can start down the road of developing a culture-based food safety program by taking all of their workplace safety placards, Powerpoints, videos and training materials used for occupational or workplace safety, and inserting the word “food safety” instead. Employees will understand it, management can teach it, and corporate leadership may even embrace it.
Although apples and oranges may look different, I would argue they sometimes fall from the same tree.