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4 Signs of a Food Safety Culture

All of us have our personal culture in which we live. How we spend our time at home and on the weekend creates our culture. The time we spend with our neighbors, friends, family and church defines us. Think of the clothes we wear, the food we eat and our traditions. Now think of the culture at your work. Think of the clothes we wear, the rituals in our procedures, and the food we make for customers. What is the status of your food safety culture?

When the FDA inspector visits your facility, the inspector will be looking for evidence of a good food safety culture. If you work in food safety or quality management, you work hard. You wear many hats. When the FDA inspector comes, your records will be inspected, and your employees will be observed. You prepare for that. You have good, organized records. You have good training programs for your employees. Most companies are confident in addressing records and training and making the evidence appear for the inspector. While the inspector is reviewing records and observing employees, the inspector is looking for evidence of a food safety culture. This is touchy-feely and sometimes hard to document. The culture is who you are and how you work together.

What does food safety culture look like? Start with your employees. Are the uniforms clean? Is their footwear of good quality and cleanable? How is their personal hygiene? Do all employees practice good handwashing? These observations plus good recordkeeping lay the foundation of a favorable food safety culture. These parts of a food safety culture are obvious to most and will be discussed more in this blog. In a second blog, I discuss 5 Signs You Don’t Have a Food Safety Culture.

Training records are complete for each employee.
Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)’s PCHF rule, training records are required for every employee. The FDA inspector will review your training records as part of a FSMA inspection. Companies earning more than $1,000,000 annually must have a PCQI, and most PCQI will provide a certificate from their training. Going beyond the PCQI, all other employees are qualified individuals, i.e. qualified to do their job. Ensure that your training records are complete, up-to-date, and show how an employee is qualified to do their job.

Your company uses signage.
Show me the sign! We have all seen the sign in the public bathroom stating employees must wash hands before returning to work. I think we get a little numb to the handwashing command. In fact, you cannot invest enough time and resources for proper handwashing. Besides handwashing, we use signs to direct employees to do many things. Signs are great! I am a huge proponent of signs. First, a picture says a thousand words; use pictures on your signs. Make the signs language appropriate for your employees. Use universal symbols as much as possible. Use color. If your employees are getting numb to the signs, move the signs. Change it up. Change the color. Change the shape.

As I travel to different food factories and am escorted into operations, I am always impressed by well-used and maintained handwashing stations, perfectly placed in a transition area and before entering operations. I like to see reminder signs. I love to see posted directions on the proper method for washing hands. My biggest pet peeve with handwashing is people not rinsing and wetting their hands before applying soap. Rinse first! Also, how many of us lather the full length of two “Happy Birthday” songs? That is the minimum time for just the lathering step.

Your company has obvious means for employees to report problems and offer suggestions.
Do you have a suggestion box in the lunchroom? As you observe employees in operations, do they freely discuss concerns with each other and supervisors? There should be an obvious and free exchange of information at all times. A red flag is when an employee is asked a question they should know and states they do not know. Does your company have team meetings with operators? Team meetings should include all shifts and facilitate communication among operators.

I worked with a company where the President sat at the conference table with his Vice Presidents and Managers. Over and over, I witnessed the President shutting down the excuses for food safety shortcomings. He was preaching food safety culture. Sanitation doesn’t have enough thermometers. Buy more. It’s not practical to record data in real time. Find a technology that works in real time. Occasionally a foot foamer is not working. Have a back-up ready to go.

Matthew Botos, CEO of, tells us, “Food Safety is ‘Basics Done Well’. As described, risk management best practices start at the top and filter all the way down to every employee and vendor. Food Safety is everyone’s responsibility. There are many tools out there to help companies.”

It is difficult to present a favorable food safety culture and sometimes more difficult to measure. The topic of a food safety culture is new and will develop over time in the food industry. As we continue to talk to each other about food safety culture, we will know it when we see it, and we will be able to measure it.

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

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 Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through, 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

September 18, 2017: Enforcement Date for Food Safety Plans

I am writing this on September 18th, 2017. For over a year I have trained people in workshops that this date is the FDA enforcement date for all food companies as regulated under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)’s Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. The small companies had more time for compliance, but this is it. Time is up.

Going forward from this day, all food companies in the United States earning more than $1 million in annual revenue must have a written food safety plan. The written food safety plan starts with a written hazard analysis and ends with a written recall plan. The food safety plan must meet the requirements in Subpart C of the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Today changes the way I teach, the way FDA enforces, and the way food companies prove food safety.

Even though today is the day, word on the street is that the FDA is a little behind on FSMA inspections. The FDA has done a great job training inspectors, providing guidance, and giving inspectors the tools they need. I hear that FSMA inspections will be more like audits: with the emphasis on review of the food safety plan and employee training records. There will be less time walking the line and more time reviewing monitoring and verification records. That being said, most FDA inspections are still for Good Manufacturing Practices, found in Subpart B of the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. If your company manufactures a product that has been recalled by a competitor or is known to be under high scrutiny by the FDA, then you should be prepared for an inspection in the near future. If not, you may have more time to prepare.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Did you find this blog post because your food safety plan is not finished or you feel it is lacking? I do not want you to feel alone or isolated from the resources and help you need. There are plenty of food companies still writing their food safety plans, so you are in good company if yours is not yet complete. You have landed in the right place – let ConnectFood help you get it done!

ConnectFood is a great tool to write your food safety plan. You can choose the free option, which is a good place to start, or you can subscribe for a low, reasonable cost. By subscribing, you will have access to the ConnectFood experts, like ConnectFood CEO Matthew Botos, myself, and other ConnectFood experts. If we don’t have the answer, we have a vast network of food safety experts to get you the answers you need.

Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback! Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at


If I Am Compliant with a Third-Party Audit, Am I FSMA-Compliant?

One of the biggest challenges for a company and its Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) is organizing both the food safety plan and materials for an audit. The food safety plan will be reviewed by the local, state, or FDA inspector. Some companies are under USDA inspection as well. In my experience, most food companies have a third-party audit for BRC, SQF, or ISO 22000 certification or with an auditing firm specializing in food manufacturing. How do you prepare for both?

There are different requirements for a government inspection and a third-party audit. The inspection is driven by public health and regulations. Food facilities will be inspected against the requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices, hazard analysis, preventive controls, and recall plan found in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Quite frankly, the government is not concerned at all with your audit criteria. The focus will be on public health and FSMA rules. Going forward, FDA inspections will evolve in to more audit-like activities with the emphasis on record review. The PCQI is required to organize or oversee the organization of records. The goal is to be inspection-ready at all times.

Much of the material that is required for an audit is the same for an inspection. Each certification or auditing body has their own requirements, and often the PCQI has the responsibility of organizing these materials also. Do you need help with organization? I encourage PCQIs whom I train to find that one person at work who loves office supplies. Put them in charge of labeling and storing materials. Trust me, they will love it! Also, find the person who is exceptionally good at organizing electronic documents. Put them in charge of developing the system of storage and retrieval. The PCQI just needs to know where paper and electronic files are and how to access them.

Do you remember Venn diagrams? List everything you need for an inspection in one circle. List everything you need for an audit in a second circle. What overlaps, and what is unique? One option is duplicating common records for both inspection and for auditing. Another option is to keep records unique to an inspection separate from records unique to an audit and have one record of common records. The inspector will not review records unique to an audit. As you are working through this organization, focus on the best location for individual records, in general. Records for an inspection can be paper or electronic, in a format of your choice. There is no mandate for use of forms. Focus on what makes sense for storage and then retrieval of records.

Let’s go back to the original question. If I am compliant with a third-party audit, am I FSMA-compliant? Maybe; it depends. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule requires a written hazards analysis which identifies hazards requiring a preventive control. The preventive controls go beyond process preventive controls to include allergen, sanitation, and supply chain preventive controls. If all the preventive controls are addressed in the audit requirements, then you are covered for both an inspection and audit. Beyond the Human Food rule, are you compliant with the Sanitary Transportation rule? In 2019, compliance with the Intentional Adulteration rule takes effect. Are you required to comply with any of the other FSMA rules? The answer is complicated.

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

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at