Food safety has taken a front seat, and conscientious consumers are more dedicated to the cause than ever. This increased awareness has inspired industry leaders to make a concerted effort to revamp their food safety programs in the name of transparency.

Today, however, the impetus for conversations surrounding food safety is no longer directly spurred by unsavory events within the food industry. As a true topic of interest to consumers, many have expressed their concern, imploring companies to be proactive, rather than reactive. In this way, Graeter’s Ice Cream has continued to build a high level of trust among its consumers over the course of its over 145-year history; in turn, becoming an ambassador for food safety industry-wide. This is accomplished, in large part, by a dedicated team of highly skilled food safety specialists.

The Weight of Food Safety within Today’s Culture
The last 5 years have intensely increased an overall awareness of particularly stubborn pathogens, especially within the frozen and dairy categories. Several distinguished brands have made a public commitment to proactivity in the food safety realm, and fellow companies can strive for similar excellence by learning from and incorporating the industry-best practices these brands utilize.

For instance, dedicating the same time, attention to detail, and heart to food safety that it puts into each handcrafted French Pot batch of ice cream, Graeter’s has achieved a Safe Quality Food (SQF) Level 3 certification. With that attained, the company’s best practices have become even more fine-tuned to ensure it continues to serve consumers with utter confidence in its product.

Achieving an SQF Level 3 Certification
Members of the Graeter’s Ice Cream team might admit that achieving an SQF Level 3 certification was, in fact, a challenging experience. However, the benefits are worth the effort. Consumers who purchase a pint at their local grocery store or walk into a scoop shop for a hand-dipped cone can instill their trust in Graeter’s Ice Cream—as well as the brand’s commitment to food safety.

While working towards its SQF Level 3 certification, Graeter’s first assessed the requirements and determined how to meet them while still maintaining its unique way of making and packing ice cream. While the SQF Level 2 certification specifies food safety, Level 3 specifies food quality.

This posed challenges for Graeter’s, as it is a company that holds the quality of each small batch to only the highest standards. From texture and creaminess to the size of its signature chocolate chips, Graeter’s relies on its skilled technicians to create these parameters. As a result, an adapted process for achieving SQF Level 3 was applied. The brand implemented four critical elements into its strict food safety regimen. Companies interested in garnering the same trust Graeter’s has can focus their efforts on these tips for food safety success.

1. Be adaptive.
Most are already familiar with the unique French pot process Graeter’s uses to handcraft its ice cream. It is this same precision that ensures the brand consistently produces a safe product. The industry’s most dedicated companies are following suit, calling upon food safety teams to create environments and protocols that do the same.

However, Graeter’s knew that whichever food safety certification it pursued would have to be from both a reputable and respected institution, while also allowing Graeter’s the freedom to maintain its specialty process for producing ice cream. The SQF Institute proved to be what the brand needed. SQF requires a rigorous, credible food safety management system, and simultaneously, is the only scheme to integrate a quality component.

2. Look at the entire process.
It can be tempting to create a food safety and quality plan from a desk where you can accomplish the end result very easily and efficiently. However, it is important to create your company’s plan with each department and process in mind. If a change is made in distribution, it can negatively impact inventory control or production, among others. Consequently, all departments within a company must work together in order for the entire system to function properly.

It is also important to incorporate team members in the development of the system. If given the opportunity to assist in the creation of processes and procedures, each team member will have a sense of ownership in the system as a whole. This aids significantly in the cultural change that is required when building, implementing, and maintaining a food safety and quality system.

3. Integrate your entire team.
Walk through a plant that enlists such quality standards as Graeter’s, and one thing should be apparent—an intricate attention to safety protocols is given by each part of the team. By walking the floor yourself, you can better learn about even the finest details of each job, while establishing a stronger sense of team. Ask for your employees’ input to let them know you value their work and expertise.

In building a stronger food safety culture consider your vehicle for feedback. In regard to a topic as critical as this, the care you show for your team should not dwindle. Take an interest in your fellow team members and show them that you’re approachable—not many quality and food safety managers make that a priority, which ultimately distances them from the core of their work.

4. Open a dialogue with others in your industry.
Use the resources at your disposal. Learning from fellow category leaders, as well as companies that reach beyond your own category, is a fantastic way to broaden your thinking. Whether your goal is to achieve a certification, or simply tighten up your current food safety practices, opening up a dialogue with other professionals is a key way to adapt to your present challenges.

Food safety is much more than a science—it is a passion. Brands like Graeter’s Ice Cream understand that keen listening ears and watchful eyes are needed to ensure its own program remains unparalleled in quality. It requires just as much heart as handcrafting the product itself. It entails constant forward thinking while not trampling on the tradition Graeter’s has established for four generations.

At a time when consumer awareness has piqued, the food industry must redefine the role and definition of food safety. The cost of doing business today is a food safety system that ultimately rises above industry standards. With this in mind, the frozen food category as a whole can once again regain the trust of its consumers and tactfully avoid crisis.

Amanda Kehres is the director of quality assurance, an SQF practitioner, and a PCQI for Graeter’s Ice Cream.