safety compliance or culture. The struc-
ture needs to fit the business. I have
seen food safety report to marketing,
legal, risk management, fiscal, R&D,
operations, and even the CEO. “In
my experience,” says Ann Marie, “the
structure that is right will depend on the
culture of the organization.”
Organizational structures are fluid,
not static, which means they are always
changing to better serve the business.
What worked 2 years ago may not work
this year. Structures change according to
business strategies and needs. Food safe-
ty leaders need to be adaptable and flex-
ible when structuring team members for
their program. The business may require
that staff work remotely one year and
then change to centralizing all essential
personnel to corporate headquarters the
I always recommend looking at other
business units’ structure, titles, and job
descriptions when building a food safety
department from scratch or making robust changes. Find examples of successful structures and not so successful ones
within your company. Network and ask
how, when, and for what reasons a business unit is structured a particular way.
“Partnering with different business
unit teams is important when needing
to add essential personnel to food safe-
ing points that nonscientists will understand. Don’t get lost in the details.”
Learning how to calculate the daily value of food safety in dollars and cents is
a valuable tool. Know where food safety adds value to the company’s bottom line.
Food safety leaders need to learn how to calculate the cost of food safety success and
the total cost of food safety failures (recalls, customer complaints, foodborne illness
outbreaks, etc.). Following proper food safety practices can show a savings in labor,
utilities, supplies, and workplace safety; improve food quality and product shelf life,
and extend equipment performance; and impact sales and revenue. All of these areas
can be calculated to show daily value added to the business.
James Ball with Fresh Market states that, “Food safety conversations need to happen with executive leadership on a regular basis. Having a conversation in front of
upper and middle management is very important.” You must understand how to
have these conversations in their business language to be able to move the needle
forward on food safety. Terry Levee with Giant Eagle provides simple talking points
to his CEO because she starts every morning talk about safety (food safety and workplace safety).
I spoke on this topic several years ago at a conference; during the Q&A period,
one of the attendees asked, “So I guess I need to drink the Kool-Aid in order to do
my job?”, implying that if the food safety team learned the business acumen and
began acting as a business partner that they were “giving in” to the business culture.
But commitment to food safety matters at all levels of the company—especially the
“For food safety leaders to motivate and enact change, it starts at the top and
moves down. Promoting change from business partners means that food safety leaders must know their business partners’ role within the company and how they might
support change,” shares Ann Marie.
A food safety leader cannot influence a positive culture of food safety without
becoming a business partner. It is as simple as that.
Building a Food Safety Organizational Structure
I am often asked, “What is the best organizational structure for food safety?” My
reply is always a question: “What is your business’s organizational structure and culture?” You see, there is no silver bullet. A company cannot structure itself into food
When you’re hungry, you always expect to eat food that is safe and of high
quality. Sometimes food processors don’t deliver quality foods, but under no
circumstance should they deliver a food that is not safe. Because a lot can go
wrong when growing or manufacturing food products, food safety has become
an extremely complex discipline and requires years of knowledge and experience.
Coming up with a food safety plan and culture for an organization doesn’t simply
occur overnight.1 The development of a food safety culture requires leadership.
For a business to become an outstanding leader in food safety, it must have a culture dedicated to food safety, a leadership structure with a great foundation, and
people who have the personalities associated with being an excellent leader.
The concept of food safety being understood and executed by a business
must be instilled in the organization’s culture, a combination of values and beliefs shared by its people, both inside and outside the organization, that informs
the decisions made at every level.2 Having such a culture is critical to a company
that makes food products because it provides a sense of shared purpose among
all individuals and contributes positively to the business.2 Without it, the compa-
The Importance of Leadership
in Food Safety
ny is at risk for unsafe food and costly
Developing culture involves many
steps. First, a food safety culture must
filter down from the company’s top
leaders and executives to the plant
floor. A second step is having management set a good example by demonstrating to other employees the correct
way of doing something. 3 A third critical
step is holding people accountable
for adhering to food safety rules. In
addition, employees must be proactive and prevent food safety incidents
before they occur. 3 A fourth step is giving enough training in food safety to
everyone working in the organization,
whether or not they directly handle
the food. These concepts are all part
of Good Manufacturing Practices, and