It is safe to say that most, if not all, of us in the food industry are aware of the importance of keeping the food that we produce safe. No one wants to be in the news for a foodborne outbreak. The economic consequences to our organization and its employees can be severe. How do we make this happen amidst a complex ecosystem of functional departmental niches that often have different priorities and objectives? For example, marketing might want to push for faster product launches, while food safety & quality assurance prefers to take more time for more testing and validation. R & D may have ideas for new ingredients and processes that could be more cost-effective in the eyes of the production department. The sales department might make a commitment to a customer in conflict with what the supply chain management department feels is possible based on inventory and logistics.

I chatted with Olawumi Yusuff, Director of Food Safety at Ferrara Candy Company, to get her expert advice. Yusuff has served the food industry in food safety and quality for more than 15 years. As Director of Food Safety, she works collaboratively and cross-functionally across multiple business units to achieve food safety and compliance goals. Yusuff strongly advocates for cross-functional collaboration, which she says “cannot be over-emphasized!”. She emphasized that it is “key to breaking down silos and fostering a culture of ownership and shared responsibility enterprise-wide for food safety.”

Olawumi Yusuff, Director of Food Safety at Ferrara Candy Company

Factors Contributing to Departmental Isolation

Are there factors that we can identify that contribute to department isolation, also known as the silo effect? Perhaps that is a good place to start, as understanding the nature of the problem may direct us to the solutions. The factors are undoubtedly multifaceted, but here are the most important ones:

Functional Specialization: Departments often develop specialized expertise in their respective functions, which can lead to a narrow focus on their specific tasks or objectives. This specialization can create silos as departments prioritize their own goals without considering the broader organizational goals or the interdependencies with other departments.

Organizational Structure: The organizational structure of a company can inadvertently foster silos. Hierarchical structures with clear reporting lines and functional divisions may discourage cross-departmental collaboration. In such structures, communication tends to flow vertically rather than horizontally, reinforcing siloed behavior.

Resource Allocation: Limited resources, including time, budget, and personnel, may lead departments to prioritize their needs over those of other departments. When departments compete for resources, they may become protective of their turf and reluctant to share information or collaborate with others.

Communication Barriers: Inadequate communication channels and processes can impede collaboration between departments. Lack of effective communication tools, conflicting communication styles, or cultural differences between departments can hinder information sharing and collaboration efforts.

Organizational Culture: Organizational culture plays a significant role in shaping department behavior and attitudes. If the culture emphasizes individual achievement over collective success or discourages risk-taking and innovation, departments may be less inclined to collaborate with others.

Performance Metrics: Performance metrics and incentives tied solely to departmental goals can reinforce siloed behavior. When employees are evaluated based on their individual or departmental performance without considering broader organizational objectives, they may prioritize their goals at the expense of collaboration.

Lack of Leadership Support: Without solid leadership support for collaboration and a shared vision, departments may operate independently, focusing on short-term gains rather than long-term strategic objectives.

The Role of Leadership in Promoting and Sustaining Cross-Functional Collaboration

Yusuff contends that “leadership commitment is foundational and fundamental to ensuring a food safety culture. Leadership commitment sets the stage for doing the right things and things right. Everyone has a role to play – from the CEO to the shop floor. A business strategy that incorporates food safety goals is a great way to show all functions across the organization that food safety is an integral part of doing business”. Key elements in the drive towards effective cross-functional collaboration include setting clear expectations, fostering a collaborative environment, providing strategic direction, empowering teams, leading by example, and facilitating seamless communication and sharing.

Setting Clear Expectations and Priorities

Defining Objectives: Leaders must clearly articulate food safety goals and how they align with the overall business strategy. This ensures that all departments understand the importance of food safety and their role in achieving these goals.

Establishing Metrics: Setting specific, measurable targets for food safety performance helps keep all teams focused. Regularly tracking progress against these metrics ensures accountability and continuous improvement.

Aligning Incentives: Aligning incentives and performance metrics across departments encourages all teams to prioritize food safety. This might include integrating food safety targets into performance reviews and bonus structures.

Setting a Culture of Collaboration

Promoting Teamwork: Leaders should emphasize the importance of teamwork and collaboration in achieving food safety objectives. Celebrating collaborative successes and recognizing contributions from different departments fosters a cooperative spirit.

Encouraging Inclusivity: Creating an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and heard promotes open communication and the sharing of ideas. This can lead to innovative solutions to food safety challenges.

Providing Strategic Direction

Vision and Goals: Leaders must provide a clear vision for food safety and how it fits into the company’s long-term goals. This helps teams understand the big picture and how their efforts contribute to the mission.

Roadmaps and Milestones: Developing a strategic roadmap with defined milestones helps keep all departments aligned and on track. Regularly reviewing and adjusting the roadmap ensures it remains relevant and practical.

Empowering and Supporting Teams

Resource Allocation: Ensuring that teams have the necessary financial, technological, or human resources enables them to address food safety issues effectively. Leaders must prioritize budget allocations to support critical food safety initiatives.

Training and Development: Providing ongoing training and development opportunities ensures that staff are knowledgeable about the latest food safety standards and practices. Empowered employees are more likely to take initiative and drive improvements.

Removing Barriers: Leaders should work to identify and remove any obstacles that hinder cross-functional collaboration. This might involve streamlining processes or improving access to necessary tools and information.

Leading by Example

Demonstrating Commitment: Leaders must visibly demonstrate their commitment to food safety by prioritizing it in their actions and decisions. This sets a powerful example for the rest of the organization.

Engaging in Collaboration: Leaders should actively participate in cross-functional meetings and initiatives, showing that they value and support collaborative efforts. This encourages others to follow suit.

Facilitating Communication and Sharing

Establishing Communication Channels: Creating effective communication channels, such as cross-departmental meetings, shared digital platforms, and collaborative tools, ensures that information flows freely between teams.

Regular Meetings: Holding regular meetings focused on food safety allows teams to discuss challenges, share insights, and align on strategies. These meetings should be structured to promote open dialogue and problem-solving.

Promoting Transparency and Accountability: Encouraging transparency in reporting and accountability helps build team trust. Sharing successes, challenges, and lessons learned fosters a culture of continuous improvement and mutual support.

Communication and Relationship Building  

Having discussed the pivotal role of leadership in driving cross-functional collaboration for food safety, we now turn our attention to the essential elements of communication and relationship building. While leadership sets the vision and provides strategic direction, effective communication channels and strong relationships among stakeholders are equally critical for translating that vision into tangible action. Let’s examine how open communication and relationships across diverse business units can be nurtured to promote and achieve shared food safety goals.

Encourage a Healthy Appreciation of Roles

Collaboration hinges on understanding the distinct roles of stakeholders across various units and their direct impact on food safety. “Being intentional about knowing more about all the stakeholders as it relates to their functions and how they play a role in food safety before needing them is fundamental!” shared Yusuff. Providing training and education helps cultivate this awareness, ensuring that each team comprehends their responsibilities in contributing to food safety efforts.

Get Buy-in Early

“Getting buy-in from stakeholders early in the process of any food safety initiatives is critical to facilitate successful implementation and sustainability,” admonished Yusuff. Securing buy-in from stakeholders early in the process is essential for effective communication and relationship building in pursuit of shared food safety goals. Engaging stakeholders from the outset, communicating the importance of initiatives, and addressing concerns fosters a sense of ownership and collaboration. By creating a culture of trust and transparency, organizations lay a solid foundation for successfully implementing food safety strategies and cultivating collective responsibility for ensuring consumer health and brand integrity.

Establish Effective Communication Channels and Feedback Mechanisms

Yusuff suggests several practical ways to establish communication channels and feedback mechanisms, including the following:

Regular Meeting Schedules: Establishing consistent meeting schedules to discuss food safety initiatives and progress allows for ongoing team communication and alignment.

Food Safety Newsletters: Implementing newsletters focused on food safety can serve as a valuable tool for disseminating information, updates, and best practices across departments, ensuring everyone stays informed.

Surveys for Feedback: Conducting surveys among stakeholders helps gather feedback and insights, providing valuable input for refining food safety strategies and addressing concerns.

Plant Walkthroughs: Organizing plant walkthroughs offers different units an opportunity to gain a firsthand understanding of each other’s operations and challenges, fostering empathy, collaboration, and shared problem-solving.

Foster Inclusivity in Decision Making

All Stakeholders Involved: Yusuff emphasized that “All stakeholders across the business units must have a seat at the table when discussing and prioritizing food safety continuous improvement initiatives. This ensures that all perspectives and ideas are incorporated in the strategy and decision-making process to meet food safety goals”.

Diverse Perspectives Considered: Actively seeking and considering diverse perspectives and ideas when prioritizing food safety initiatives fosters innovation and ensures robust and comprehensive strategies. This culture of inclusion builds trust and commitment among teams.

Highlighting Benefits of Inclusion: Emphasizing the benefits of incorporating input from various business units in shaping food safety strategies encourages active participation and reinforces the value of collaboration in achieving common goals.

Reward, Recognize, and Incentivize Individuals to Work Towards Common Goals

Acknowledging Contributions: Recognizing and rewarding individuals and teams for their contributions to food safety reinforces the importance of their efforts and encourages continued commitment.

Incentive Structures: Developing incentive structures that align with food safety goals motivates employees to prioritize and actively participate in collaborative initiatives. This might include incorporating food safety metrics into performance evaluations or offering incentives for innovative solutions.

Celebrating Successes: Celebrating milestones and successes in food safety initiatives reinforces a culture of achievement and encourages continued collaboration and excellence.

Resolving Disagreements and Conflicting Priorities

Yusuff advises that “changing or conflicting priorities between departments are not uncommon in the food industry, but that shouldn’t affect food safety initiatives. Effective communication, alignment, and prioritization with business units is critical. When food safety strategies and implementation timelines are defined and agreed upon collectively as a team, it helps drive accountability and ensure ownership.” Her strategies for resolving disagreements and conflicts are further elaborated below.

Align Food Safety Goals with Organizational Objectives

Integration of Goals: Ensure that food safety objectives align with the organizational goals. This alignment fosters a unified vision and emphasizes the importance of food safety as a foundational element of the organization’s success.

Shared Understanding: Encourage dialogue to facilitate a shared understanding of how achieving food safety goals contributes to broader organizational objectives. This helps to garner support and commitment from all departments.

Clearly Define Food Safety Strategies and Implementation Timelines

Clarity in Strategy: Clearly articulate food safety strategies, outlining specific actions and responsibilities for each department. This clarity reduces ambiguity and minimizes the potential for misunderstandings or conflicting interpretations.

Establish Timelines: Set realistic implementation timelines and milestones to ensure accountability and progress tracking. Clear deadlines help keep teams focused and aligned toward achieving food safety objectives.

Encourage Open Communication and Dialogue

Facilitate Dialogue: Foster an environment of open communication where departments feel comfortable sharing concerns, perspectives, and challenges related to food safety. Regular meetings, brainstorming sessions, and workshops provide collaborative problem-solving and consensus-building opportunities.

Seek Common Ground: Encourage stakeholders to actively listen to each other’s viewpoints and seek common ground. This collaborative approach promotes understanding and helps identify mutually beneficial solutions. “In my experience, using internal and external data, referencing regulatory and industry trends, and using real-life examples or case studies to help drive home the point.  It is important to use clear and concise language. Emphasize that food safety is not just about regulatory compliance but also about protecting customers/consumers and the company’s brand/reputation. Avoid technical jargon or terms that they may not be familiar with. This will make it easier for everyone to grasp the key points and understand the importance of food safety”, said Yusuff.

Establish Cross-Functional Teams

Promote Collaboration: Create cross-functional teams with representatives from different departments to address specific food safety challenges or initiatives. These teams facilitate collaboration, bringing diverse perspectives together to develop comprehensive solutions.

Shared Ownership: By involving stakeholders from various units in decision-making processes, cross-functional teams foster a sense of shared ownership and accountability for food safety outcomes.

Make Decisions Based on Data

Data-Driven Approach: Decisions regarding food safety priorities and strategies should be based on objective data and evidence rather than personal opinions or preferences. Analyzing relevant data helps prioritize initiatives effectively and ensures that resources are allocated efficiently to address the most pressing issues.

Employing Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

To achieve food safety goals through effective collaboration and conflict resolution, we must employ key performance indicators (KPIs) that guide us toward excellence. These metrics not only help us gauge our progress but also reveal areas for improvement. Yusuff identifies the following KPIs as excellent examples of metrics used in the food industry to measure the success of cross-functional collaboration in food safety.

Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ)

The Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) is a critical KPI that measures the financial impact of quality-related issues in food manufacturing. This includes expenses incurred due to recalls, product rejections, rework, and customer complaints about food safety concerns. COPQ encompasses direct costs, such as production losses and waste, and indirect costs, such as damage to brand reputation and regulatory fines.

Monitoring COPQ provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of food safety controls and processes. A high COPQ may indicate deficiencies in sanitation practices, quality assurance procedures, or supplier management. By reducing COPQ through preventive measures and continuous improvement initiatives, food manufacturers can enhance food safety, minimize financial losses, and protect consumer trust.

Customer Complaints Related to Food Safety

Customer complaints related to food safety are a crucial KPI for identifying potential hazards and addressing consumer concerns. These complaints may involve foreign material contamination, allergen mislabeling, microbial contamination, or other safety hazards. Monitoring and analyzing customer complaints provides valuable product quality and safety performance feedback.

Addressing customer complaints promptly and effectively is essential for maintaining consumer trust and brand reputation. Food manufacturers can prevent similar incidents from recurring by investigating the root causes of complaints and implementing corrective actions. Moreover, proactive communication with customers about food safety measures demonstrates transparency and commitment to quality.

Internal Findings

Internal findings refer to observations, audits, or inspections conducted within the organization to evaluate compliance with food safety standards and procedures. These findings may include non-conformities, deviations, or deficiencies identified during internal audits or inspections of manufacturing facilities, processes, or products, such as foreign material findings (metal/non-metal), missing data, documentation errors, etc.

Tracking internal findings helps identify areas for improvement in food safety management systems. Food manufacturers can enhance compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards by addressing non-conformities and implementing corrective actions promptly. Additionally, regular internal audits promote a culture of continuous improvement and accountability across the organization.

First Time Right (FTR)

First-time right (FTR) measures the percentage of products or processes that meet quality and safety standards upon the first attempt without the need for rework or corrective actions. Achieving FTR ensures that products are manufactured safely and consistently, minimizing the risk of contamination or defects.

Improving FTR requires robust preventive controls, quality assurance measures, and employee training programs. By implementing effective sanitation practices, adhering to standardized operating procedures, and conducting regular quality checks, food manufacturers can increase FTR rates and reduce the likelihood of producing unsafe or non-compliant products.

Repeat Non-Conformances Rate and Closure Rate

The Repeat Non-Conformances Rate measures the frequency or percentage of recurring non-conformances over time, indicating persistent issues or systemic failures in food safety controls. Conversely, the Closure Rate assesses the efficiency and timeliness of closing out non-conformances by implementing corrective actions and preventive measures.

Tracking these KPIs helps identify recurring food safety issues and assess the effectiveness of corrective actions. By addressing root causes, implementing preventive measures, and monitoring performance metrics, food manufacturers can reduce the incidence of non-conformances and enhance the reliability of food safety management systems.

Master Sanitation Schedule (MSS) Completion Rate

The Master Sanitation Schedule (MSS) Completion Rate measures the percentage of scheduled sanitation tasks completed according to the MSS within the specified timeframe. The MSS outlines the frequency and scope of sanitation activities required to maintain cleanliness, hygiene, and sanitation standards in food manufacturing facilities.

Achieving a high MSS Completion Rate is essential for preventing microbial contamination, allergen cross-contact, and other food safety hazards. By prioritizing sanitation tasks, allocating resources effectively, and conducting regular inspections, food manufacturers can ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and mitigate risks to food safety.

Employing these KPIs in food safety management is vital for fostering effective cross-functional collaboration and conflict resolution within the industry. By meticulously monitoring and addressing these indicators, food manufacturers can facilitate better communication and cooperation among different departments, ensuring that everyone is aligned toward common food safety goals. These KPIs help identify areas needing improvement, enabling teams to work together to implement robust corrective actions and ensure compliance with regulatory standards. Ultimately, the strategic use of KPIs bolsters food safety and reinforces consumer trust, brand integrity, and overall operational excellence by promoting a unified approach to maintaining high standards across all functions.

Wrapping Up  

Achieving food safety goals in the food industry requires a concerted effort across all business units, emphasizing the importance of cross-functional collaboration. Organizations can create a culture where food safety is a shared responsibility by addressing the factors contributing to departmental isolation and leveraging strong leadership to promote teamwork. Effective communication channels, inclusivity in decision-making, and the strategic use of KPIs are essential components of this collaborative effort. This integrated approach helps maintain regulatory compliance, strengthens consumer trust, protects brand integrity, and drives operational excellence.

Yusuff predicts “cross-functional collaboration will become even more critical, and I see this getting stronger and better. This will also evolve beyond stakeholders within organizations and extend to collaboration with regulatory agencies, consumers, farmers, suppliers, and food industry associations. Consumers are increasingly aware of food safety issues; collaboration with consumers is essential, and consumer feedback will drive improvements in food safety practices. This will be dynamic and continue to evolve with emerging technologies and changing regulations”.


  • Courtney Simons

    Dr. Courtney Simons has served as a food science researcher and educator for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and a Ph.D. in Cereal Science from North Dakota State University.