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Academic’s key ingredient to improve food industry safety standards

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Published on 16 March 2017

Improve food industry safety standards
Improve food industry safety standards

While the vast majority of food industry manufacturers strive for a positive food safety culture, statistics published by the Food Standards Agency between 2014 – 2016 reveal there were around 500 deaths a year caused by food borne illnesses, costing the UK nearly £1.5 billion.

Campylobacter was the most common food borne pathogen, with about 280,000 cases every year, Salmonella caused the most hospital admissions – about 2,500 each year, while poultry meat was linked to the most cases of food poisoning, with an estimated 244,000 cases every year.

Dr Derek Watson, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, has been investigating how food industry manufacturers can develop a positive food safety culture by adopting a new industry model; which puts their own business practices under the microscope and lays the foundations to run more effectively and efficiently.

The model has been devised in response to totrain, a North East based training business specialising in food safety, who sought the expertise of Dr Watson, as part of a national research exercise. The initiative has already secured funding from Teesside Local Enterprise Partnership and its 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’ behavioral short-falls within their organisations.

The detailed questionnaire, handed to all employees, is 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 said: “Having looked at the current literature, Government reports, and working documents, I’ve designed a food safety questionnaire which finds out the core issues affecting businesses with regards to food safety compliance, wrapped around the food safety culture, and offer validated feedback.

“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, so there is compliance. And while there are tight legislative regulations currently in place, they are the bare minimum required, if you fail to achieve that, you are in line for judicial action or prosecution. What our model does is to look at clear information and data that demonstrates an organisation has buy-in from its own workforce and how effective are those systems running in the organisation in order to achieve continuous improvement.”

The data findings will collectively be documented into an academic paper to inform food manufacturers of the core issues they face and suggested solutions. In addition, participating organisations can access bespoke analysis via interviews and focus groups and the commissioning of an informed improvement report. 

Eventually it’s anticipated the model will be commercially rolled out nationally and internationally.

Furthermore, the anonymous data will be embedded within the University of Sunderland’s MBA programme to provide students with live commercial exposure and enriched learning.

Totrain CEO John Husband commented: ''With new and emerging threats to our food chain and the supply of manufactured ingredients becoming global our approach to Food Safety Culture is more important than ever. We are used to the more tangible elements of food safety, process control, hazard analysis, food safety standards but a manufactures approach to food safety, the behavioral aspects and creating a culture of responsibility is now an important aspect of any food manufactures responsibilities.''

Three businesses have already agreed to put their businesses practices under the microscope, one of those is Fulwell Mill Limited., Manufacturer of Organic, Fairtrade and Healthy Foods.

Richard Friend, Technical Director at Fulwell Mill Limited, commented: “Although the survey results were generally very positive, it did raise some interesting issues both in and out of the 4C culture model. We have addressed some of these already and will be working with totrain to further widen ownership with the aim of benefiting the food safety culture in our business.”