Brexit could have serious implications on the UK food manufacturing industry which is already struggling to maintain consistent levels of food safety compliance, University of Sunderland academic Dr Derek Watson has cautioned.

At the recent 2017 European Food Safety & Standards Conference in Greece, Dr Watson, alongside John Husband, a director of Stockton-based food safety training specialist at Totrain, outlined the impact of leaving the EU on the food manufacturing industry.

They argued that the number of accidents or incidents in the sector is already a cause for concern but could become even worse after Brexit. This forms the basis of their paper entitled ‘Brexit and the Implications of Food Safety Cultural Compliance in the Food Manufacturing Sector.’

Dr Watson, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, said: “Food safety is a critical measurement, not just for economic and legal reasons but also for the moral integrity of the organisation. However, in reality the number of accidents or incidents in the food manufacturing sector is very worrying.

“The problem is further compounded with the onset of Brexit. Given the UK government’s negotiation talks it has resulted in a climate of uncertainty, a devaluation of currency and economic instability.

“Food manufacturers, along with other commercial businesses are reluctant to further invest until the economic future is more transparent. In consequence, food manufacturers are seeking efficiency saving, whilst aiming not to compromise food safety compliance.

“Whilst there are areas of best practice, sadly there are an increasing number of examples in which failure to comply to food safety is resulting in loss of business, serious injury and in certain cases fatalities.”

To support their paper, Dr Watson and Mr Husband will share research that was conducted by Totrain as part of the launch of ‘enlighten’, its innovative online training product which, for the first time, enables food manufacturers to measure food safety culture in the workplace.

Mr Husband said: “We consulted five UK food manufacturers and the data collected clearly indicates a commitment to food safety compliance.

“However, the majority of organisations struggled to maintain consistent levels of food safety compliance despite implementing costly training and development initiatives.

“Their strategic and operational drive to both enhance and maintain a positive food safety culture was also undermined with the uncertainty of economic pressures and the quagmire of Brexit.”

Among the recommendations Dr Watson and Mr Husband made at the conference in Athens this month (November), was for organisations to consider the utilisation of the ‘enlighten’ model in the pursuit of enhanced and sustained cultural compliance within the food manufacturing sector.

The conference paper was co-written by Sophia Pandi, Dr Watson’s PhD research student, Dr Stanley Yap, Dean of Faculty at Sunderland’s TNE SEGi University Malaysia, John Husband Director of Consultancy – eLearning totrain, and Mr Fanos Tekelas from Cyprus School of Business (where Dr Watson is now a visiting senior research fellow).

This is the first step as part of a global research and consultancy initiative, and interest from the conference has generated both consultancy and research enquiries from USA, Brazil, and Uruguay.