Why food safety doesn’t need to leave a foul taste in your mouth
Having just spent the last few weeks completely immersed in the food industry, I got to thinking about the experience and what I’d learned (oh, and eggs - but that can wait ‘til the end).
In many cases what I experienced was the same old stuff I’ve seen over the years helping organisations get to grips with their food safety programs - and in particular their specific needs around HACCP compliance.
But it was also clear that the industry is changing at a fairly rapid rate. Even in developing economies food safety is now a very big deal and whilst the stakes have always been huge (get it wrong and people get sick), the regulatory agencies are now throwing their significant weight behind food safety programs like HACCP.
But to your average small business owner, this can feel like the last thing they need!
HACCP is about process, procedures, checklists and verification - things most bakers and cooks don’t give a moment’s thought to when they decide to try and make a living out of their passion for food.
But it’s a skill they’ve had to learn – and one that most see as a cost, not a benefit.
And then there’s the ever-tightening margins as competition heats up and consumers become more educated in food quality and safety.
The reality for many people earning a living in the industry is just that – it’s just enough to live on with many at the bottom end of the pay scale. And whilst many employers wouldn’t have it any other way, they know that this is the main reason for their terribly high staff turnover levels.
But irrespective of how long they’re going to stick around, employees still need to be trained in food safety, wear the correct clothing and fill in the correct forms.
It’s probably no wonder then that most small businesses won’t even contemplate using a software solution specifically designed to manage food safety programs. All they want to do is minimise the cost of the system and in their minds that means using pen & paper with maybe a dollop of Excel & Word thrown in for good measure.
But deep down they know that if they placed a monetary value on their time and looked at the true cost of running these manual systems (especially when things go wrong), they’d get even more irritated with the true cost of compliance.
And if they could put the emotion aside and think about it pure monetary terms, they’d know that they needed to do something about it – to stop the unnecessary time and cost.
The other problem of course with such clumsy manual systems is that every time an employee leaves, the system gets diluted because the individual takes with them vital knowledge that isn’t housed in a proper system. Employers may as well be giving departing staff a wad of cash because there’s a very real cost to the business every time someone leaves.
Then there’s the new employees coming in - initially full of ideas and opinions - and therefore determined to drive some changes. And whilst that might feel like a positive, in environments where food safety programs aren’t clearly defined and controlled, it’s actually a big problem. What you end up with is 57 varieties of how things are done from a food safety point-of-view and a dilution of the core principles upon which the system was created in the first place. Is it any wonder the company starts getting more and more non-conformances?
Food safety software addresses all of these issues – it removes all that unnecessary time-wasting and cost, creates a single version of the truth and ensures that changes to the system are properly managed. It also houses the company’s intellectual property in a structured way that protects it but also makes it easy to access and manage.
Food safety compliance doesn’t need to leave a foul taste in your mouth if you follow some simple steps:
- Recognise that your food safety system contains vital aspects of your company’s IP.
- Given you probably paid good money to a consultant to help get you certified, don’t let less-qualified employees randomly change it (just because they don’t like what’s written).
- Just as you put your money in the bank, put your food safety system into a fit-for-purpose software application that is actually designed to manage compliance.
- Don’t fight your system - use it and look after it and you’ll get value out of it.
So I’m sitting with the owner of a small food chain in Singapore - Jimmy - and he tells me that food safety software is just like an egg. Umm… an egg I thought – I’d never heard that one before. So he gives me some time to guess what he means but eventually, after half a dozen guesses, I give up.
Jimmy tells me that the egg is a beautiful thing – attractive from the outside, beautiful on the inside. I can’t agree more. But he tells me that the thing bakers and chefs really love about eggs is their versatility and that one of the key ways they’re used is as a binding agent – to bring various ingredients together and bind them into a mixture of perfect consistency.
Anyway, according to Jimmy, software is the binding agent for his HACCP food safety program. It’s the core ingredient that brings everything together and creates that perfect consistency - his processes, procedures and people all aligned and working as one.
But wait – there’s more! Jimmy used to think food safety was a cost of being in business. But now he actually sees it as adding value to the business - by improving the efficiency of his supply chain and reducing his costs in areas like purchasing and waste management.
A decent software application is the only egg Jimmy needs to make food safety not just edible but downright tasty.