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Food packaging safety: Who’s your advocate?

Article-Food packaging safety: Who’s your advocate?

Food packaging safety:  Who’s your advocate?
A crucial element on any food packaging safety program checklist without which all the other ones mean little: Is there an internal champion?

The best practices, applications and processes for a food packaging safety program have been created—they only await your advocacy.

I’ll apologize in advance for the preaching. I typically scour the internet for packaging safety content because the subject interests me and to avoid redundancy of information. There is no shortage of information, recommendations and updates referencing food and packaging safety. As I communicate with and assist packaging professionals and manufacturers with their food packaging safety challenges, I try to determine if the person I am speaking with is “an advocate” for safety, risk avoidance and change, or, more likely, just the poor soul who had been assigned the unenviable task of reaching out to obtain the “three independent estimates” required by Company protocol. 

I propose to you that without a passionate advocate within the organization for food and packaging safety and suitability evaluation and change, the best written content won’t help you.  Organizations that have a strong top management commitment to change are likely to succeed in implementing meaningful change.

Little sense of urgency

Advocacy for food packaging safety upgrades needs to be supported with reasonable resources, time, urgency and priority.  I have not seen facilities apply the same passion and urgency against food packaging safety as they do to maintenance, training and other programs touted by efficiency experts and consultants. As executives at one of my former employers would become sold on the benefits of each continuous improvement program, there was a mandate that every manufacturing facility within the corporation be introduced to the concept, trained and assigned a quantifiable objective linked to their annual performance review.

The point is, top management had attended the marketing presentation (for Productivity and Quality Program “X”), absorbed the message and then determined that application of Program “X” would ultimately save the Corporation seven figures, not to mention improve quality and streamline “the process.” Once management decreed that everyone would be trained in Program “X,” it became the daily topic of conversation. Whether these programs function as advertised is arguable, but not important. What is important is how the process spread across the organization like a wildfire once top management decreed its importance and inevitability.

Lack of identification and correction

I don’t see that same passion linked to substantive change in food packaging safety and suitability program upgrades despite the obvious and unified voices decrying the requirements for change based on FSMA, FDA focus and what I consider the undeniable harm of not identifying and correcting packaging safety errors, omissions and risks.

Enough preaching and proselytizing! If you haven’t moved on yet due to annoyance or boredom, thank you for hanging in. What can you do within your organization to get the message across? 

It would seem that, as the continuous improvement advocates did throughout the last two decades, the initiative begins with an advocate who recognizes the fiscal and behavioral benefits of rewiring or creating a practical food packaging safety program using current standards and practices.

The presentation to management must clearly explain the benefits to key stakeholders (corporate-speak for management) using language and subjects that make them act on your message. Examples include:

  • Retain existing customers;
  • Expand portfolios;
  • Acquire new business;
  • Reduce ongoing costs;
  • Improve quality;
  • Reduce risk, harm and the danger they put on the overall business;
  • Identify details relevant to your particular operation or discipline

Exploit messages that work!  Use the same strategies as the marketers of continuous improvement programs to explain the benefits of safety and suitability management programs. They targeted improving quality, attaining productivity and engaging everyone in the process through training and accountability. Regardless of the extent to which each of your facilities or organizations needs a food packaging safety and suitability assessment, upgrade or implementation, there must be a “czar” who is empowered to oversee and a Project Manager assigned to execute against objectives and milestones, with clear accountability.

Treating food packaging safety and suitability as a burdensome, unwanted task is a waste of time and effort. Embracing it as an effective continuous improvement-style opportunity to improve, upgrade, streamline processes and understand/control risks to quality and safety has an excellent chance for success and longevity. Be the advocate!

Gary Kestenbaum has 40 years’ experience in the food and packaging industries, six as a supplier with National Starch, 18 as a product developer with General/Kraft Foods and 15 as a packaging engineer and developer with Kraft. In his current position as senior food packaging safety consultant with EHA Consulting Group, Kestenbaum provides guidance on packaging safety and suitability-related projects for raw material manufacturers, converters and associated supporting professionals. He can be reached at [email protected] or 410-484-9133. The website is

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