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Departmental Cooperation For Food Safety Success

“As leaders, there is nothing more important in our industry than building relationships,” Donnie Temperley, VP of Operations at Hormel Foods Corporation, said during the 2015 Food Safety Summit keynote address.

“As leaders, there is nothing more important in our industry than building relationships,” Donnie Temperley, VP of Operations at Hormel Foods Corporation, said this morning during the 2015 Food Safety Summit keynote address.

Temperley, along with Charlean Gmunder, former VP Manufacturing at Chiquita Brands; and Keith Carango, Senior VP/COO at The Cheesecake Factory, expressed their best practices for a food safety initiative during today’s keynote presentation of the 17th annual Food Safety Summit.

The Summit, located at the Baltimore Convention Center, is a solutions-based conference and expo that’s carefully segmented to address the critical concerns throughout the entire food industry. This morning’s address focused on the importance of creating safe food through cooperation and collaboration.

People are the resource

“To me, talented people are the biggest resource you can possibly provide your company in helping to align a food safety system,” Carango said.

As the senior vice president and COO of some of the tastiest cheesecakes and desserts in the country (The Cheesecake Factory), Carango said while his company is committed to creating something delicious, making sure it is safe for consumption is key.

Everyone understands and agrees that we don’t want to make consumers sick, Carango explained, so finding the right resources to create safe food products is a necessity.

No matter which department you’re apart of – quality assurance, production, shipping and receiving, etc. – everyone should care about safety metrics.

The Cheesecake Factory’s core values revolve around having a passion for your people, a culture of excellence, an innovative and creative mindset and –of course—safe and quality food.

And the way to do that, Carango said, is first and foremost to invest in talented people. By doing so, you bring to your company a great leadership resource that creates good, open, collaborative communication.

Understand, educate and align goals

When Gmunder first joined the food industry, she said her experiences could be best compared to the childhood game Red Light, Green Light.

For those unfamiliar with the game, one person would act as the “traffic light” and would face the other players, who would be the “cars.” When the traffic light said green light, the objective for the cars was to move as quickly as they could to reach the light. But if the traffic light said red light, the goal was to catch the other players (the cars) moving.

“That reminds me of what life was like in food manufacturing in the 1980s,” Gmunder said. “Operations executives would try to quickly put out as much product as they could while QA people weren’t looking, while QA people (the traffic light if you will) were trying to catch operations doing something wrong.”

Today, Gmunder said, we can’t afford to work that way. We, as an industry, have to collaborate and work toward one common goal.

“We need to start moving in the same direction,” Gmunder added.

As a supply chain executive, Gmunder has a strong belief in food safety and the need to create a safe culture.

Unfortunately, learning to communicate with your operations leaders can be tough. So how do you gain cooperation?

1.)Educating your operations executive on food safety should include: informing them of FDA/USDA regulations, the HACCP program, GFSI scheme, customer requirements, allowing them to observe process and pre-op inspection and swabbing, reviewing the current testing procedures and results you’re seeing and engaging them in internal audits so they are able to understand the risks and see what you are doing to counteract those risks.

2.)Ensure they understand the implications of food safety: Breaking this down for the operations leader by providing recent cases is a good first step, but by including the potential effects on the company (revenue loss, market share decline) that it could have is what makes it real.

3.)Understand what drives your operations executive and align your goals: In order to truly get inside your operations leader’s head, you need to know two things about them: their characteristics and their responsibilities.
Gmunder said the common traits an operations leader has include:

  • Achievement-oriented
  • Data-driven and analytical
  • Focused on outcomes and timelines
  • Process-oriented
  • Problem solvers
  • Effective communicators

As for the responsibilities of operations leaders, those tend to include things like:

  • Safety (like the OSHA rate)
  • Quality (rework generation or customer complaint rate)
  • Cost (cost of goods sold, yield, productivity)
  • Service (perfect order rate, on time/in full rate)

By understanding your operations leader, you are now able to play on their level. So, for example, if you have a leader who is achievement-oriented, set a shared goal. If they are known to be data-driven, provide them with objective (not anecdotal) information demonstrating the situation. As for the executives who focus their energies on outcomes, put together a project plan for them. If they are process-oriented, show them that there is a systematic method to be utilized. And as for the problem-solvers, provide them the chance to jointly develop solutions and take ownership.

Once you have taken the time to better understand the operations leader’s characteristics, you can focus on aligning your goals. Let’s say your objective is to purchase a new sanitation equipment in hopes of improving the effectiveness of your sanitation process. Your operations leader focuses on reducing the OSHA recordable rate and improving productivity, so find a way to show them that by purchasing new equipment, it will reduce the recordable rate and therefore improve productivity throughout the company.

Building relationships through trust

Temperley made the important statement that the food we feed our families is the same food that we are producing, which puts a very personal touch on the issue of food safety.

There is a thin line when it comes to comparing food safety and people safety, as they are both critical issues within the food manufacturing industry.

“We want consumer experience to be enjoyable and safe, but how do we do that? (Pulls out the very-thick Policy and Procedures binder) I’m not going to focus on this binder today,” Temperley said. “I’m going to focus on department cooperation.”

Temperley said the industry needs to start looking at cooperation in the same way people look at marriage. We should be utilizing the keys that are part of a successful marriage, like trust, communication and integrity.

“The days when you were able to just work in your own little silos are long gone,” Temperley added. “You better be able to work well with other people.”