Determining the barriers to effective food safety governance in food manufacturing: a case study
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
Food businesses bear the main responsibility for food safety. They are legally mandated to use preventative food safety management systems, yet food incidents occur regularly. Little research exists on these systems or failures from a management control perspective. This thesis addresses this gap through the question “Why do food safety systems fail and how does this relate to the governance and management control of food safety in food manufacturers?" Two manufacturers, with the pseudonyms LiquiComp UK and PowderCo UK, act as case studies, each with an embedded critical case of a non-reportable food incident. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews, observation and documents. An inductive, thematic analysis identified nine themes, using within and cross-case comparison. A second analytical stage used the management control paradigm Pragmatic Constructivism (H. Nørreklit, L. Nørreklit, & Mitchell, 2010), mapping codes and themes against the four dimensions of values, facts, possibilities and communication. A key finding was that the incidents were considered “unforeseeable”, challenging the use of conventional food safety management systems based on risk assessment, for if the hazards leading to failures are not identified, preventative controls cannot be put in place. Pragmatic Constructivism suggests that the companies failed to identify the causes of the incidents as “factual possibilities”, related to an unshakeable trust in their control systems and an over-reliance on specific expertise. The implications for practice in developing and reviewing food safety management plans are considered, e.g. to involve staff who are knowledgeable and curious, but not necessarily experts in food safety, in order to develop plans based on both breadth and depth of insight. Pragmatic Constructivism posits that success requires a functional organisational topos, involving integration of the four dimensions. Inadequate integration was observed in the LiquiComp UK case, whereas in PowderCo UK, very tight integration was seen. “Over-integration” is introduced as a new theoretical concept, which enriches the use of Pragmatic Constructivism in analysing and interpreting complex, real world situations, particularly system failures.
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