If I were to ask, on a scale of one to 10, how often food safety is discussed in your organization, what would you say? When your company executives gather for routine meetings to talk about the direction in which the company is moving, where does food safety fall on the agenda? Is it the first item, or the last? Is food safety even addressed?

These are critical and often overlooked questions that can make or break any meat processing company. Unfortunately, while most processors are happy to proclaim they truly care about food safety, those are the same companies that will only publicly say that they care about food safety in the midst of a crisis. And, in most of those cases, it’s the absence of a strong food safety culture that led to the crisis in the first place.

If your “food safety score” is anything less than a 10, you need to work on your internal culture. Look for ways to force the issue of food safety into the corporate dialogue. An effective tool is to highlight the long list of recalls that have resulted from food safety failures, and mention the companies that have ceased to exist as a result. In addition to the negative publicity and damage to your company’s brand, and the inevitable loss of large customers, most recalls will eventually cost a processer millions of dollars in direct costs. No matter how strong your company may be, it’s not easy to absorb those kinds of losses.

Given the level of governmental and industry resources focused on detecting food safety issues in the marketplace, it’s very unlikely any issues with your products will go undetected. As a result, the only way to ensure you don’t get dragged into a recall situation is to make certain that food safety becomes a priority. Carefully review your internal programs, work to invest in additional interventions and put additional time and effort into your training.

And, when you think you’ve done enough, go and ask any employee on the line, “What do you think is the ‘food safety score’ of the company?” If the answer is anything less than 10, get back to work. NP