4 Critical Components of the Food Safety Pyramid

By ETQ on June 20, 2017

Many of us grew up with the old-fashioned food pyramid: 6 servings of grains, 5 servings of fruits and veggies, 3 servings of dairy and so on. Today, we have MyPlate, where the basic concepts behind the old food pyramid still appear to hold sway.

That is, eat lots of fruits and veggies, moderate amounts of protein and dairy and limited amounts of salt and fat. Similarly, food safety in manufacturing can be viewed as a pyramid with 4 critical components: compliance, traceability and culture, all supported by a Food Safety Management System (FSMS).

1. Quality-Safety Culture

At the top of the food safety pyramid is the culture of your organization. Just like the fats at the top of the old food pyramid, the quality of your culture is what determines whether you stay in balance here. Olive oil is healthier than butter, just as proactive quality culture is safer than a reactive, event-driven culture.

Signs your organization has a proactive quality and safety culture include:

  • Leadership is engaged in planning and monitoring the FSMS.
  • The company commits visible resources to quality and safety.
  • Employee perception surveys show genuine buy-in with safety and quality values.
  • People take ownership of quality and safety issues they see.

2. Compliance

Compliance is another essential component of the food safety pyramid. Because if there’s anything we know about major contamination events, it’s that not complying with regulations, standards and policies is a recipe for disaster.

However, companies shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking compliance alone is sufficient for protecting food safety. While it can seem like a burden just to meet the thousands of regulatory requirements that apply to food manufacturers, true safety depends on a proactive attitude that goes beyond compliance.

An FSMS with compliance tracking capabilities helps you do just that. It helps you ensure that you meet all applicable requirements, also allowing you to link those requirements to related areas such as corrective actions, documents and audit management.

3. Traceability

When it comes to food safety, traceability is key. That’s because when a recall does occur, you need to be able to immediately track all affected product to contain and minimize the number of consumers exposed. Not only does this protect public health, it also helps limit the scope and cost of a given recall.

An integrated FSMS is an important tool here, allowing you to:

  • Link production, shipping and receiving data to trace food forward and backward in the food supply.
  • Connect Supplier Management tools to track and resolve supplier-related issues for improved supply chain visibility.
  • Record the history of compliance-related activities for better visibility into source and scope of potential problems.

4. The FSMS as the Foundation

At this point, it’s probably clear why the FSMS is the foundation of the food safety pyramid. It’s the piece that ties multiple areas of food safety management together such as:

  • Documents: Your documents are the planning step in the plan-do-check-act cycle. Document Control software keeps your specifications straight, also managing the revision process for controlled documents.
  • Employee training: With your plans and policies in place, Employee Training tracking tools help you assign training requirements, see who’s overdue and link the training record with human resources data.
  • Audits: Your audit program acts as a check that you’re actually doing what you said in your documents. Audit Management system modules make it easier with automated scheduling and notification, as well as mobile audits that upload results to the FSMS for you.
  • Reporting: Centralized reporting capabilities as part of a robust FSMS gives you visibility into what’s driving food safety at your organization. Being able to instantly access your data means you can act on trends in real-time.
  • Corrective Action: Integrated Corrective Action tools let you track the resolution of problems, also allowing you to link corrective action requests to related areas such as audits, equipment maintenance and nonconforming materials.


It’s important to mention that the results you get from your FSMS and food safety software are wholly dependent on what’s driving implementation. If you’re doing it just to satisfy corporate or avoid regulatory penalties, you’ll never see the same gains as you would if you have a genuine commitment to quality and protecting consumers.


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