Maintaining a safe food supply requires more than diligent adherence to sanitation protocols — food and beverage manufacturers need a comprehensive approach to food safety at every level of their organization. Food safety culture encompasses employee accountability, training and education, communication between stakeholders, and the commitment of top company leadership. However, manufacturers have a unique set of vulnerabilities that make it challenging to maintain a culture of food safety.

Here are the top challenges that stand in the way of establishing an effective and consistent food safety culture, as well as some tips on how to overcome them:

1. Exposed Materials

Unlike distributors and other organizations in the food supply chain, manufacturers deal with raw materials and products that frontline workers handle directly. As a result, food and beverage products being produced are more vulnerable to contamination than at any other stage in the supply chain.

It’s important to establish and reinforce food safety culture in manufacturing facilities to prevent compliance breaches and putting the public at risk. Manufacturers can achieve higher levels of adherence to protocols and best practices by strengthening food safety commitment from leadership, investing in more training, and building more time into employee schedules to properly follow protocols.

2. High Employee Turnover

In 2021, the Great Resignation caused a mass exodus of employees from every industry — including food manufacturing. In 2022, Food Engineering reported that 58% of food manufacturers surveyed say they are understaffed — up from 50% the previous year.

High employee turnover can cause a breakdown in food safety culture in two ways. First, understaffed production lines may lack the resources to maintain product safety.  Second, constantly integrating inexperienced workers into the production process increases the possibility of human error. Manufacturers can combat this by streamlining food safety training and providing frequent refreshers on best practices. Employee monitoring can also help management catch and correct mistakes more quickly.

3. Production Pressures

Food and beverage manufacturers are often under pressure to meet ambitious production targets, especially when trying to recover from profit losses during the pandemic. The fast pace of the environment can make it challenging to prioritize food safety practices and maintain a consistent food safety culture. As a result, both leaders and frontline employees might take shortcuts or even skip steps in the production process to meet the company’s goals, resulting in contamination and food safety issues. Company leaders need to remain vigilant about prioritizing food safety and enabling high-quality work — even if it means reducing output and allowing more time for quality control. Food safety should always supersede production quotas.

4. Supply Chain Disruption

Over the past few years, many food and beverage manufacturers have had to dramatically alter procurement strategies and find new, reliable, and consistent suppliers. Ongoing shipping challenges and delays can also dramatically alter production schedules and create challenging crunch periods.

With so much change and chaos, it can make it difficult to vet vendors or ensure all suppliers meet the same food safety standards. Company leaders need to maintain a rigorous supplier management program to ensure their vendors are not taking shortcuts or sacrificing food safety. At the same time, it’s important for frontline workers to be extra watchful of potential food safety issues with the raw materials they’re working with.

Maintaining a strong food safety culture is crucial for food and beverage manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products, protect consumers, and avoid costly recalls. However, achieving and sustaining a strong food safety culture requires overcoming challenges. Manufacturers must be proactive in maintaining standards, addressing staffing shortages and supply chain disruption, and providing the highest quality training to their workforce. Sometimes, outside support is the best way to overcome these obstacles.

AIB International has a century-long history of helping manufacturers build a robust and effective food safety program. We take program development a step further with in-depth training on how to follow food safety protocols and utilize control measures. Want help building and reinforcing your food safety culture? Learn more about our food safety courses here.

>Be careful to not confuse quality with food safety. Quality includes attributes like color, texture, taste, etc. Food safety means preventing contamination with pathogens, foreign materials, chemicals, etc. and maintaining proper processing (pH, time and temperature, aw, etc.) and storage parameters (temperatures). This article is about food safety.

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