What is food safety?
Food safety refers to handling, preparing and storing food in a way to best reduce the risk individuals becoming sick from foodborne illnesses.
Even on the surface this sounds like a difficult task. Imagine the amount of time and work it takes to implement large scale food safety systems for giant organizations. Individuals who perform these roles need to be within the industry for a long time and be backed up with a significant amount of educational training.
We are lucky that there are individuals up to the challenge and these individuals are known as food safety managers. However, depending on the size of a company they could be referred to as Quality Control Managers, Quality Assurance Managers or HACCP Managers.
No matter what you call them this week FoodGrads is looking at these high-knowledge individuals who play a major part in our food systems!
1. Food Safety Managers ensure food safety
A food safety manager is an individual who:
Develops and oversees all food safety regulations, policies and procedures for plant operations. They help to develop, implement and enforce security and food safety standards, policies and programs including HACCAP, SQF and GSFI, regulatory audits, food safety training programs, standard operating procedures (SOPs), product inspections and standardized work.
Food Safety Managers work closely with departmental management to address any food safety and quality assurance issues. This includes supporting Research and Development when new products, line extensions and continuous quality improvement projects occur. Sometimes this requires the manager to travel to the various plants across the country.
Overall, Food Safety Managers make recommendations for food safety decisions that can have catastrophic impact to consumer protection and brand image.
2. Food Safety Managers are Leaders
Change can not happen with just one person alone and it takes an individual with a certain set of characteristics to lead an effective team. Leadership is the foundation of what happens in a food plant and it is the food safety manager which sets the tone for food safety issues.
Food safety managers do a lot to be effective leaders such as staying current with new quality systems and certification programs such as GMPs, SOPs and HACCP. Doing so reiterates the importance critical rules and regulations. Once they know this they train new (and old!) employees on quality systems on what they have learned.
As well, these managers provide a supportive culture that treats food safety as much as productivity, quality and profitability. The work place is open so individuals can ask questions or not feel threatened when they make mistakes they were not aware of.
3. Food Safety Managers have this education
It is essential that Food Safety Managers have degrees in Chemistry, Food Science, Engineering or a related technical field such as biology or nutrition. Some professionals do have a MSc or PhD but this is not a requirement depending on the establishment.
This is a job where having experience will affect your credibility as managers. So the more years you have under your belt, the better the credibility.
It is essential that food safety managers have a minimum of 5 years experience in a technical area such as R&D, product development, laboratory management, quality management systems, or food process engineering.This experience provides the perspective to understand what goes down on the floor of production.
Also important is a basic understanding of regulatory, food law and benchmark food safety standards.They should have certifications in things such as a HACCP and other food certifications such as SQF and BRC.
4. Food Safety Manager work with various teams
Food safety involves all teams within food manufacturing to work together with the consumer in mind. These teams include production, sanitation, maintenance, shipping and receiving departments with all of these departments having their own unique challenges.
Food Safety Managers work with the heads of all these departments in order to overcome these challenges and provide direction for the combined efforts. Typically, once a week/month team heads come together to discuss problems in the building and brainstorm ideas. Each head brings the concerns of the workers under them as they are the eye and ears on the floor.
The true test to know if these strategies work is if food safety is strengthened at work.
5. Food Safety Managers are problem solvers
Any one knows that a good manager needs to be an effective problem solver. Every day the food industry is faced with food safety problems that need to be addressed which require solutions which have solutions which aren’t always apparent. These complications could be small nuances or large organizational crises.
No matter what the size the same steps could be taken. Practical leaders always go through a series of steps which help address these problems. The steps are as follows:
- Identify and Define the Problem
- Analyze the Problems
- Develop Solutions
- Plan and Act
Overall, effective problem solving leads to better food safety!
6. Food Safety Managers understand safety programs
A food safety program is a ‘live document’ that outlines how a business will proactively identify and control food safety hazards when producing, manufacturing or handling food. It’s designed and managed by a Food Safety Supervisor on behalf of a food business.
These programs are important because they encompass all parts of an organization by identifying potential food safety hazard, providing solutions for controlling these hazards and providing procedures for corrective actions. These structures are massive with everything being well documented.
There are many food safety management programs that manufacturing plants can decide to go with. Examples include SQF, HACCP and BRC. Once a plant decides upon a particular program they become experts in the expectations of these programs. Food safety manager understand all the nuances and always striving for their plants to be up to their certification levels.
7. Food Safety Managers understand food safety science
Understanding safety programs is not enough knowledge for a food safety manager to know.
These managers also demonstrate a strong technical of various topics in the field of food science. For example, they have a strong knowledge about what what allergens are and important controls to prevent allergen cross contamination.
As well, they know about ecology of microbiological pathogens in food with specific reference to sources growth and survival characteristics. There is a lot to know when it comes to being a manager!
8. Food Safety Managers have these sets of skills
Being a food safety manager requires a range of skills however there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:
- Interpersonal Skills – Food safety managers need to be comfortable speaking with others at all organizational levels (internal and external). Their communication has to be well-understood at all levels and they also actively learn about the concern of other individuals.
- Persuasive – Food safety managers need to be persuasive in challenging environments. People can be set in their ways and you need to have persuasive to convince them other wise. These managers need to know not only how to talk to people one on one but also through advanced presentation and training skills, executive presence.
- Goal Setters- Managers realize that not all changes occur over night and the only to succeeded by setting goals. Not only are goals set but they are also consistently re-calibrated and checked on to make sure that progress is being made.
Author: Veronica Hislop – Veronica is a recent FoodGrad working as Quality Assurance Technician at a snack food company. She graduated with a Chemistry degree at Ryerson University and has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavours you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.
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