Years ago, a retired U.S. Navy training officer was interviewing for a role as training manager overseeing a number of analytical laboratories that had implemented an integrated management system that included ISO 9001 (Quality), ISO 14001 (Environmental), and ISO 45001 (Occupational Health & Safety), as well as ISO 17025 (Testing and Calibration).

During the interview, he was asked, “Can you explain the importance of standards for the U.S. Navy training programs?”

This was his reply:

“In the U.S. Navy, the importance of standards is a key discipline and paramount to our success.”

He went on to explain that a crew needs to understand what is required, and they need to execute consistently. It is one thing to understand “what” is needed, and it is another thing to understand “how” to execute under extremely challenging circumstances when the stakes are high. Consistency is key. You must be able to take the crew from one ship and move them to a different ship, and for the crew to be able to execute in the exact same way. The execution part is all about effectiveness and efficiency. In order to do this, the U.S. Navy had developed a “Process Control Framework” supported by a “Reference Model” that included a suite of common processes, manuals, charters, templates, and checklists. This was critical. Why? The standards are the requirements, they are often referred to as “the what,” and the guidance was the direction given, often referred to as “the how.” Guidance complements requirements. The “how” complements the “what.” Without guidance, the requirements can be open to interpretation. You cannot have ambiguity in the U.S. Navy. You need a fleet that operates with discipline, with everyone knowing “what” is needed and “how” to do it. This keeps human error and system failure to a minimum. The result is the U.S. Navy operates as a fleet of agile ships.

Today, big food organizations with manufacturing facilities scattered around the globe are often seen as supertankers. Whilst they are established global food brands, these supertankers are often criticized for being slow to maneuver. As we have seen recently with the Evergreen tanker getting stuck in the Suez Canal, when there is a problem, it’s hard for a supertanker to turn around. Essentially, like the U.S. Navy, food manufacturing facilities need to transition from supertankers to a fleet of agile ships.


There is a lot to be said for practical advice, especially when it comes to understanding how standards work in an organization. In addition, it is just as important for implementing and sustaining a food safety management system. A standard will define the requirements, “the what.” A guideline such as the ISO 22000 handbook will define “the how.” Both are equally important. The requirements of a voluntary consensus standard are intentionally designed to be broad. This allows the standard to be implemented by any food organization in any sector and any size. It also means the requirements can be interpreted differently. What supporting documentation is needed? What resources are needed?

Colin Christmas and I collaborated to write a small ebook to explain the “Ten Things you should know from the new ISO 22000 handbook.” We believe this handbook is essential for any food safety professional that is working with any food safety management system. Using the U.S. Navy as an analogy, if the standard requirement is to build boats that are seaworthy, and the requirements are open to interpretation, you may end up with a fleet of very different looking boats and a complicated mishmash that needs to be managed instead of your own fleet of agile ships.

With guidance that explains how things can be done, there is a consideration for the necessary understanding of the aim and outcome of the standard’s different requirements. We were very excited to see the publication of the ISO 22000 handbook which can be applied by big food organizations as well as small to medium sized enterprises. We hope that all food organizations see as much value in the handbook as we do.

To get a copy of the ISO 22000 handbook, click here.

Thanks to Colin Christmas, Managing Director at the EAGLE Certification Group, for drafting this article.

Nuno Soares, Ph.D., is the founder of "The Why of Food Safety—I'm a SLO" initiative and author of several books and articles on food safety, namely FSSC 22000 V5 and ISO 22000:2018 Blueprint and Food Safety in the Seafood Industry (Wiley). He is an author, consultant, and trainer in food safety with more than 21 years background in the food industry as a food safety/quality and plant manager. He works exclusively to help food safety professionals achieve a more fulfilled career based on improving knowledge, improving competences and a growing mindset.