NOTE: The author is proud to be a cheesehead from Wisconsin. She is passionate about food safety… and football.

By Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in the prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA)

Pre-season football has begun, and the tourists have descended upon my hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Each year there is a bit of quiet during the months of May and June – after the NFL draft and before training camp in July. The rest of year, my town revolves around Packer games and activities. I can’t help but think about how food safety is like football.

Score is kept; records are established.
This year is the hundredth season for the Packers. There are 99 years of rosters, wins, losses, and stellar plays. Every adult in Green Bay over the age of 70 claims to have been at the Ice Bowl.

How does your company keep score? There are records for manhours, number of lines, number of SKUs, and how much of each product is manufactured daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Keeping documentation is critical to business. Management will know if it is a winning year or a losing year by analyzing the numbers made.

The organization has a reputation.
What do people say about your company and your product? Every detail of your organization from CEO to ball-inflater is not discussed on sports radio, but the details are discussed at the photocopier, on the line, and in the breakroom. What do your employees think? One way to see what your employees or former employees think is on the website glassdoor. Glassdoor is used by job seekers to see comments by your employees about your company. Check it out. You will probably be surprised, because it is mostly likely going to be the “armchair coaches” complaining about the company. It is easy to say what we would do if we were in charge.

What do your neighbors and community know about you, the company next door? Like the Packer organization, your company may be a large employer in a small town, where everyone knows someone who works for the organization. As an employee, you represent the organization and have an opportunity to help establish a good reputation. You see each other at the grocery store and in church. (Yes, I must brag for a moment that I see Packer players with their families at church.)

Another group you hear from is your customers. The company collects consumer complaints and feedback on the product. Routinely review this information with the food safety team to know what your customers think.

You need a good team to win.
It helps to have a superstar like Aaron Rodgers to lead your team, but manufacturing a safe product is teamwork and the effort of many. Every employee has a role, a position, if you will, to play. Individuals require training and development to learn their role and for you to provide resources to perform their job using best practices. When you invest in your players, they can do great things. Make training and development a part of the culture. Year after year, fill key positions with the best talent you can find. Players will move into new positions, and you will lose players. Recruit the best players. Surround yourself with excellence.

People are passionate about your product.
If you are not a sports fan, think of something you are passionate about – your family, your hobbies, etc. If you do follow a team, you feel the passion I’m referring to. You have clothes and paraphernalia with the team logo branded on them. You enjoy being with people who share your same passion. You celebrate wins and analyze and mourn the losses. You are willing to dedicate time to your passion; it is a priority. Instill this passion in your employees regarding food safety and best practices.

Your customers are loyal to the product, and your company takes brand loyalty seriously. The greatest sign of loyalty I have seen is customers during a recall saying they are going to eat the product anyway! While I am not a proponent of the decision, I respect the sentiment. Blue Bell ice cream has such a loyal following that when manufacturing was shut down and their ice cream was not available in the store, Blue Bell ice cream could be found for sale on eBay.

You need depth in key positions.
Life happens. Who would have predicted that Aaron Rodgers, the Packer’s 20+ million dollar man, would have a broken collar bone twice and be out the rest of each season? Employees get ill or go on vacation, often at the most inopportune time. How is your depth in food safety? If you only have one Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), what do you do if they leave? We are seeing companies have multiple PCQIs trained per facility to avoid issues if a situation were to arise. Companies that value food safety and want a food safety culture will invest in their key players.

Will your team have a winning season?
Like the football season, we don’t know what lies ahead for wins and losses. Who will step up to lead the team? Who will throw the Hail Mary for the exhilarating last-second win?! Many of my clients are now in their busy season leading to Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. As you follow your team, I will be following my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, until February and the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Go Pack Go!

Always remember: the way you practice is the way your company will perform.

The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she delivered over 20 workshops to industry. With over 35 years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an effective communicator at all levels in an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd