Simon Dawson, a lecturer in the department of food science since 2012, gave us his experience in industry, the importance of a food safety culture and why he turned to teaching in this introductory article.
Dawson has had technical manager roles at a crisp company, a supermarket and a dips and dressings producer.
“You started in the kitchen producing 1kg and when you moved up to 1,000kg there could be complications as it is scaled up which could cause headache after headache but other times everything would be fine.”
Dawson said one of the main things for industry was to have documents in place to ensure traceability.
Online systems for document control could take over the onus from staff and, despite being expensive at the moment, they are the way forward for the future, he said.
Dawson spent the first 11 years of his career working in a combination of technical management roles within food manufacturing and retail organisations.
He has conducted food safety audits throughout UK and Europe and as far afield as Thailand.
“In one in Thailand there were old and dated doors that didn’t close properly…but another had the highest standards I have ever seen,” he said.
“They had 5,000 staff, 2,500 on each shift so there is a massive changeover of staff going in and out. One had a job to almost stand still and inspect hands as you were going into the factory.
“It was good to see that level of care and attention, the cleanliness of the site was fantastic. With them two examples it was chalk and cheese and shows the varying standards in one country.”
When asked if sectors differed in food safety approach, Dawson said the fundamental point of view is the same.
“HACCP has been a legal requirement since 2006, the aim is to reduce bacteria and hazards to safe levels to prevent harm to the public,” he said.
“There is a different point of view for ready meals and the Ready-To-Eat high risk products instead of raw chicken where you go through processes including de-feathering.”
Turning to teaching
When asked why he turned to teaching, Dawson said he wanted to strive towards a PhD adding that the opportunity doesn't come around often.
At undergraduate level his main teaching responsibilities are in HACCP, food safety, total quality management, new product development and environmental management.
Food company support
Dawson splits his time between lecturing and the Zero2Five food industry centre which supports firms, technically and operationally, to compete in the marketplace.
He advises Welsh SME food manufacturing companies on food safety, quality and best practice standards through the Zero2Five centre based at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
“It can assist food sites with whatever they come to us with and in turn, we gather information to use in the lectures as when you are out of the industry it can change at a fast pace, like BRC and Tesco standards which are updated every few years.”
Dawson is involved in a research project with Tenovus, a cancer research charity, looking at food safety demands for people with cancer and how they can be helped with the aim of improving the understanding towards food safety.
“Production produce the product and the technical team make it safe which is a continuous working challenge. With short shelf life goods and the role money plays you have to make a quick decision and then stick with it.
“Retailers are demanding higher standards now as it’s their brand to make sure it is the safest possible product.”
Food safety culture
He said it is vital to have a food safety culture that senior management are on board with.
“The first points in the BRC guide look at senior management commitment, without a food safety plan it doesn’t work at all.
“If you have senior management on board who understand that you can’t cut corners or problems will occur, maybe not today or tomorrow but they will occur, and follow procedures then you have done everything possible and taken all reasonable steps, what more can you do?”
On the subject of audits, he said a firm needs to do third party or customer audits as well as internal checks.
“For internal audits you have to do a BRC or other one, it is about how they are conducted. If you do it on your own systems you may not be as stringent, whereas if someone comes in they have an independent point of view and fresh eyes to pick up on things to help and offer advice to improve.
“Unannounced audits are a good idea but there is an issue of practicality. If your technical team is off on that day or auditors from Tesco and Asda show up at the same time, which one do you turn away and how. Key people might not be in the office and will that have an effect on the audit score because the person handling documentation wasn’t in, for example.”
He is a Western branch committee member and advisory consultant for the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), an independent qualifying body for food professionals in Europe.
Food chain integrity
One year on from the start of the horse meat scandal, he said integrity of food industry supply chains are under close scrutiny.
“The Elliott report review is looking at setting up a crime unit for food fraud with zero tolerance and specific, diligent control over all areas.
“But can you test for all types of protein, all meat products and what comes next. Horse was not suspected so why test for it. You have to assess based on the risk, it could be badger or rat, you cannot test for everything.”
He said other issues centred around food waste, the potential for fraud in provenance claims and nutritional content.
- Look out for Simon's first column coming exclusively to Food Quality News very soon!