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Sunderland channels food safety model in Central America

ByDave Stopher

Jun 14, 2018

A Sunderland academic is helping a growing restaurant chain in Central America break into the North American market by applying his innovative food safety cultural compliance model.

When Panama-based SUVLAS wanted to expand its chain of six restaurants specialising in healthy varieties of the Greek Yeeros, they sought the expertise of Dr Derek Watson, a senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland.

Dr Watson has been investigating how food industry manufacturers can develop a positive food safety culture by adopting his industry-based model called Enlighten; which puts their own business practices under the microscope and lays the foundations to run more effectively and efficiently.

After spending a week with SUVLAS, introducing Enlighten to the 80 staff, management team and directors, bosses at the multi-million pound company were so impressed with the immediate changes they saw that they called a press conference with local media to talk about the benefits of the business model. Dr Watson has also presented his work with Suvlas at the global Food Safety and Sustainability Conference in New York this month (May 21).

Dr Watson said: “SUVLAS made contact after a conference we gave on the Enlighten model in Athens last year. They invited me to test the model and make an assessment of their business model, audit their food safety standards and adapt them for the North American market to ensure they have the right quality assurance systems in place, ahead of their expansion plans in 2019, setting up a network of restaurants from Miami to Boston.”

Joined by PhD student Sophia Pandi, a consultant in food safety, Derek added: “The Enlighten model focuses on behavioural aspects. SUVLAS had demonstrated that they had developed their own food safety procedures, and everything from their meat to the coffee was quality assured. But we discovered that because the company was in hyper growth, some of the communications, organisational structure and management competence was in need of review. So we monitored their procedures, formalised their initial systems, in order to enhance the recruitment, training and development of staff and boardroom management. Once they began to understand the process of what we were telling them they were seeing an immediate payback.

“Working with such a multi-national workforce and dealing with staff from many different cultures, made this project demanding, but one of the most rewarding I have worked on.”

SUVLAS Founding Partner Mr Antonio Androutsos commented: “Working with Dr Watson and Ms Sophia Pandi had been instrumental in refining our operational systems and management practices. The Enlighten model has help strengthen our strategic focus, our employee commitment and management capacity.

“We will certainly continue the research project in preparation for our North American launch.”

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. Our model 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.”


As part of his visit to Panama, Dr Watson was also invited along with Sophia Pandi to the Technological University of Panama to give a key-note speech on his research work at Sunderland. There are plans to develop the links between the two universities through research and student/ staff exchanges.