This editorial was written in response to Bill Marler’s “Publisher’s Platform: It is Time for a Sarbanes-Oxley Act for Food Safety,” published Saturday, Aug. 24.
Bill Marler and I speak to senior executives of food manufacturing companies and restaurant operators many times each year. We are almost always surprised (yes, even we can be naive sometimes) by how little they know about the status of food safety in their companies. These are people that have risen to senior leadership positions within their organizations by being really good at managing the key controllable elements of their respective businesses.
Every manufacturer knows their labor numbers, productivity metrics, capital improvement project status, and, likewise, every successful restaurant operator knows how they are doing with same store sales, labor, food cost and cash handling.
These senior executives can often recite to a couple of decimal points of precision how their operations are performing against all these metrics. But when we ask them, “How are your companies doing on food safety?,” we get replies such as, “Pretty good,” “Better than last week,” “We got a good health department report,” etc.
As you can see, they have little to no awareness about how their operations are doing regarding protecting the integrity and safety of their products.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was adopted in an attempt to hold senior leaders accountable for the integrity of the fiscal reporting in their organizations. It actually defines in the documents that you sign that you can go to the slammer for improper reporting. But, at the end of the day, even if you mess up in the fiscal arena, it’s only money that goes missing. No young or old person dies as a result of poor fiscal accountability.
Whether Sarbanes-Oxley actually prevents all criminal financial activity remains to be seen, but it has increased attention to, and accountability for, fiscal matters within the senior management ranks. Spending a little time on an extended leave of absence with the soap-on-a-rope crowd does not sound like a fun sabbatical.
What if we enacted a similar measure for food safety compliance? If the senior leaders in the food industry were held to the same accountability standards that exist for financial reporting, they would most certainly pay greater attention to the metrics that tell them how they are doing in this most critical of functions within their companies.
The old management adage is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Another is that you get what you demonstrate you want. Assuming these are both true, we simply need to heighten the overall awareness and visibility of food safety to the senior leadership to ensure their accountability for food safety.
In every talk we give, we always tell our audiences that food safety is the one controllable metric that you bet your business on every day you operate. It should have as much focus and attention as any other metric you hold near and dear within your organization. If it doesn’t today, we would ask you to assemble your leadership team and ask them about where it sits within their daily focus. If food safety is anywhere but at the top – or at least on par with the other top metrics – it’s time to remedy the situation.
Maybe it will take a Sarbanes-Oxley-like law to raise accountability for food safety. We’d like to think that if all senior executives stopped and considered that they provide food to children, including their own, their accountability would be greater than it is today. It would be a shame if we have to legislate to ensure that leaders in the food industry be more accountable for food safety, but no doubt it needs improvement.© Food Safety News