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Who is in Control of your Food Safety reputation?

'You do you, Mama.' This has been my kids' advice whenever they sense I'm thinking through an important decision. They usually know my decision because I have a 'reputation' for doing things a certain way. It's good advice, generally, for all of us. It makes sense to feel good about our choices because we have to live with them. Having alignment with our values and decisions creates authenticity and genuineness. The cumulative effect of these decisions creates our reputation.


The Impact Of Your Business Reputation

 

This matters in our personal lives and equally so in our businesses. Because of the visibility others have on our operations, employee relationships, and customer experiences, our decisions and actions are not always as private as we'd like them to be. The 'You do You' approach may not serve us as well as we hoped because others are watching, listening, and forming opinions about us.

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My job is to help people in the food and transportation industries transition into a stronger food safety position in the supply chain. So, focusing on how to build and protect our reputations while we have time and opportunity is one of my priorities.


We often think of food safety as a set of science-based practices implemented through a program. This is true. But there are additional pieces to our overall success that aren't often identified as relevant until they are problems. Specifically, it is important to consider the impact of other company's decisions and practices on our own.


Today, we are going to discuss ‘reputation.’ Three considerations hopefully will help us understand the importance of safeguarding our reputations.


  1. Do the actions of others impact our businesses;

  2. Why and when does this likelihood become important;

  3. How do we shape and protect our reputations

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

 

The old maxim still stands. We can say all we want about who we are and what we stand for, but others' actions are often seen and attributed to our own businesses.

Are you a LinkedIn member? If so, you will understand what I mean when I say public conversations and opinions of one person or company influence others who share the same professional space or industry.

Person typing on a keyboard sharing their opinion and feedback.

For example, daily new posts show the consequences of bad truck driver decisions. Unsecured, fallen product piled up in a trailer and video recordings of accidents are two common posts that can speak incorrectly for all trucking companies. One of Healthy Trailer's competitors posts videos of very dirty trailer environments that are certainly real but not typical food trailer conditions.

Fortunately, there are guardians of the transportation galaxy who catch these conversations and can intervene, correct the impressions, and influence opinions. But this point is simple. Our businesses operate in a visible world, and the actions of other companies can speak for us, and often louder than we do. If we start here by acknowledging the overall effects of other's decisions on our reputations, then doing the work to build and safeguard them becomes a clear and achievable objective.


Why & When It Matters

 

We’re talking today about our reputations as they relate to our role in food transportation.

Working at Healthy Trailer gives us a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective of what is happening and changing in food transportation. Attention to how transportation vendors handle shipments of food is increasing. Questions about industry standards premised on untested ‘best practices’ are surfacing in conversations with food industry members who have seen unsanitary trailer conditions and are now wondering if their product is safe during transportation.

FSMA transportation has been an enforceable regulation since 2017. While it’s been a questionable rule due to its lack of clarity about important requirements like the meaning of ‘clean’ and what types of cargo or trailer use lead to cross-contamination, it’s been a food safety law just like the other six rules comprising FSMA.


Person holding a box full of produce, dairy, and eggs.

How ‘others’ meet the requirements of FSMA transportation can speak to your compliance and commitment to keeping food in the supply chain. Your vendors, customers, and outside companies visible to your customers, regulators, and consumers are or will be contributing to your reputation.

This is the ‘why’ that makes considering how others manage food safety in their operations should be important to you.

But when will it matter?

Asked another way, ‘Who is creating your food safety record today?’

This is a ‘risk’ question often evaluated based on these five factors:


  1. Size Of A Company

  2. Frequency Of Food Shipments

  3. Types Of Food Cargo

  4. Types Of Prior Cargo

  5. Customer Requirements & Expectations

These five factors could each be fleshed out in an article of their own. But the critical point to understand in thinking through how they affect your organization is your assumptions about them.  


  • We’re small, no one will notice a problem, and our huge customer practices won’t affect us.

  • Food products are not our primary hauls.

  • We transport packaged fresh produce so the product is protected.

  • We only haul dry products, so there is no risk of fresh produce in our trailers.

  • Our customer contracts contain generic food safety terms and never ask us to show we’re complying.


We hear comments like this all the time. The most important assumption you can have is that food safety risks are inherently part of food transportation. If and when the day arrives that we need to defend our practices, our reputations will play a role in supporting or rejecting our claims of being FSMA compliant. 


Before we leave this point about when your reputation matters, one other consideration may be of interest.


Many of you are members of associations or industry trade groups that work with governmental regulators on developing and implementing policy decisions. Typically, individuals and companies with the best reputations (expertise, knowledge, and good track records) significantly influence the outcomes of these policies.


This is important to you as a food and/or food transportation industry member because FSMA transportation is a largely undefined and developed area of food safety. You want to be in a position of influence so that you have the opportunity to implement reasonable standards.


Your reputation can give you these opportunities.


Take Control of Your Reputation

 

So we’ve hopefully shown you that yes, the actions of others can affect your reputation, and also given some examples of why and when your reputation will be at issue.  


Person going over a checklist.

Let’s look at some things you can do to shape, build, and protect your reputation.


Here’s a short checklist of things that will help you:

Communicate

Talk about the purpose of your food safety protocols and how you will implement them into your operations. Create an environment that encourages transparency and allows your team to ask questions.

Protocols Are A Key Starting Point

Prepare To Implement The Protocols

Show Your Work

Debrief


The goal is to take action that moves your company toward food safety compliance. Suppose other trucking or food companies are in the headlines for unsafe transportation practices. In that case, if you have proactively taken these steps, you will have begun to build a reputation for being a quality ‘Farm to Fork’ transportation company. This reputation lifts you above the problem.

Own Your Reputation

 

As I mentioned earlier, Healthy Trailer is in a position to hear and see so much. Sometimes, it’s funny, sometimes serious, and occasionally shocking. These comments and questions come from people working in transportation and food production.

Companies seem to be waiting. However, waiting for more information from the FDA, questions from your customers, an unwelcome incident at the dock, or the ultimate worst, being part of a foodborne illness outbreak is not building and protecting the reputation you want and need.

If you don’t build and strengthen your company’s reputation, others will, but you won’t want what they create for you.








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