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Sunderland blends partnership links with China’s food producers

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Published on 09 May 2019

Top L-R: Academic Dean Prof Lawrence Bellamy, Dr Derek Watson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) Prof John Macintyre, Mr Wei Guo, Ms Wenlei Wang, Phd student Yuan Zhai. Bottom L-R: Ms Zhanchen Wang, Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell, Mr Yang Wending and De
Top L-R: Academic Dean Prof Lawrence Bellamy, Dr Derek Watson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) Prof John Macintyre, Mr Wei Guo, Ms Wenlei Wang, Phd student Yuan Zhai. Bottom L-R: Ms Zhanchen Wang, Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell, Mr Yang Wending and De

The University of Sunderland has welcomed a delegation of Chinese food industry specialists on campus as part of a UK-wide tour to forge collaborative projects and share research.

As a result of Sunderland’s research in the area of food safety, academic Dr Derek Watson was invited by the Food Federation of Inner Mongolia (FFIM), which represents 2,000 of China’s largest manufacturers, to present the findings of his globally recognised  ‘enlighten’ industry-based model earlier this year, which puts business practices under the microscope and lays the foundations for them to run more effectively and efficiently.

The success of the visit has led to a delegation from FFIM spending all this week meeting food manufacturers across the UK. The tour also included a visit to the University’s Sunderland campus where a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Sir David Bell, forging closer educational, research and cultural links between the two organisations.

Attending the signing from China was Mr Wei Guo, FFIM Secretary General, Mr Wenhua Yang, FFIM Director of General Office, Ms Zhanchen Wang, Vice President of the Inner Mongolian Tea Artists Association and Ms Wenlei Wang, Senior Lecturer at Bao Tou Light Industry Vocational College.

The University’s newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Jon Timmis, also attended the meeting, alongside Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Professor John Macintyre.

Sir David Bell said: “It’s always a pleasure to welcome international guests to our University, in particular on this project, where our knowledge exchange expertise is being shared with friends and colleagues from China.

“Our senior academic, Derek Watson, has been bringing his food safety research to the Food Federation of Inner Mongolia. This is part of a collaborative project that is a practical demonstration of how our expertise at Sunderland is being applied internationally.

“Our students also benefits from such collaborations. They see the University being involved in practical knowledge exchange activity, which gives them a good example to follow. Our academic staff are able to transfer the knowledge they gain into the curriculum. This is really important for our students, who benefit from staff whose knowledge and expertise is relevant and indeed globally significant.”

During their visit the delegation was taken on a tour of the University campus, and gained an insight into the programmes Sunderland offers and the research taking place.

The University has been welcoming students from China to Sunderland for many years onto a diverse range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and has developed strong educational, cultural and business links between the two communities.

Dr Watson, who was made an honorary member of the FFIM, said: “We have had a very exciting week with the delegation which included a meeting at the British Retail Consortium’s global headquarters and had strategic meetings between their members, the FFIM and ourselves.

 “The purpose of the visit is to offer the delegation an opportunity to look at Western styles of food safety management systems and share our expertise.

“We are very proud of the links we are building with FFIM, which will be of major benefit to Sunderland and will help further our collaborative multi-disciplinary research particularly in the areas of food safety.

“It’s an opportunity which we hope will really enhance our work and hopefully lead to further collaborative exchanges between our staff and students.”

Ms Zhanchen Wang, Vice President of the Inner Mongolian Tea Artists Association, a healthcare and quality assurance expert, added: “This is our first visit to Sunderland, and it is a wonderful university in a beautiful environment, the people have been very welcoming.

“This visit has given us a strong link to develop a strong friendship between the University and Food Federation of Inner Mongolia. The signing of the MoU helps us build future communications and makes it easier to collaborate on projects.” 

The enlighten model caught the attention of FFIM, thanks to Dr Watson’s Chinese PhD student Yuan Zhai, who brokered the connection and has acted as a translator for the delegation during their UK visit.


The Enlighten model’s principle aim is to encourage food manufacturing organisations to complete a Food Safety Culture Questionnaire which assesses the level of compliance, best practice and in particular manufacturers’ behavioural short-falls within their organisations. The detailed questionnaire, is handed to all employees, and designed on the four C’s Model: Control, Co-operation, Communications and Competence. Data from the questionnaire is analysed, followed by one-to-one interviews and focus groups, before being validated, and the results presented at each stage to their executive before a final report is produced. 

Dr Watson explained: “Having looked at the current literature, Government reports, and food manufacturers practices, we designed a food safety assessment model which traces and triangulates core issues affecting businesses with regards to food safety cultural compliance.

“There are many illnesses and deaths linked to food safety, therefore it’s critical from a moral standpoint that organisations ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, that they develop a positive food safety culture, which is compliant. The enlighten model developed in conjunction with totrain enables food manufactures to measure its food safety cultural compliance, which is in line with anticipated requirements by the British Retail Consortium’s Global Quality Standards.”

Student Profile: Yuan Zhai

Yuan Zhai’s PhD research focuses on developing a quality management tool used for food safety management systems. It is a strategic and operational framework to close the gaps between the British Retail Consortium Global Food Standards and Chinese dairy producers’ food safety management systems.

Yuan said: “The goal of my research is helping Chinese food manufacturers become internationalised through exporting their products to the rest of the world. It is also in compliance with the Chinese Government’s national strategy of economic growth through growing export.”

About Dr Derek Watson

Dr Watson is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, founder of the Faculty ‘Business Clinic’ and the Doctoral lead for the University’s ‘Research Fridays’ programme. Dr Watson has experience of mapping skills requirements in emerging sectors. He also has extensive links and networks as a result of sourcing and embedding external engagement opportunities across the curriculum, with an international portfolio of clients and contacts, such as the British Cabinet Office, Indian Government Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dubai Police and Canon International.