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An evaluation of effective enforcement approaches for SMEs in food safety
Project Code: E03003
Kings College London
Yapp, C ; Fairman, R
This report examines the effect of local authority interventions on the compliance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with food safety law. The objectives were to:
- Develop a theoretical model describing the process of how SMEs decide to comply with food safety law (the compliance decision process);
- Evaluate the effect of local authority interventions on an indicator of hygiene performance within food SMEs; and
- Examine the effect of different local authority interventions upon the compliance decision process within SMEs
A compliance decision model was developed using work carried out by Henson and Heasman (1998) and from interviews held with gatekeeper groups. This theoretical model was used to analyse data obtained from the case studies.
Gatekeepers identified three issues believed to affect food safety compliance: the level of deprivation in a local authority area, the level of formal enforcement activity and level of educational activity undertaken. This range of issues was examined using eight local authorities showing “extreme” levels of each of these factors. Analysis examined the effect of interventions on food safety (using statistical analysis of a hygiene indicator), SME attitudes and motivations towards compliance (through interviews and observation in 81 SMEs).
Deprivation did not affect decisions made by SMEs or overall inspection rating scores of premises. Local authority education activity had significant effects upon inspection rating scores and compliance levels of SMEs. The statistical analysis showed that scores were lower(The lower the score, the ‘better’ the food safety conditions in the SME) and became even lower over time within areas of “high” education compared with those of “low” education. Compliance levels within areas of “high” education were better than in areas of “low” education. Formal enforcement activity had a significant effect upon inspection rating scores. Scores were higher in areas of “high” formal enforcement, compared with those in “low” areas of formal enforcement and remained higher over time.
These results may be interpreted in three ways. Firstly, the conditions within businesses could cause a particular intervention approach to be adopted by the local authority. Secondly, by adopting a particular intervention approach, the local authority could cause the conditions within the SMEs. Thirdly, different local authorities could score premises differently.
Whilst the analysis identified significant relationships between the factors and inspection rating scores, it is possible that these are due to other factors not considered within this research. Further, more complex, tests are needed in order to explore this issue, although triangulation of case study data supported the second interpretation - the intervention approaches resulted in the conditions within premises.
The meaning of compliance differed between SMEs and enforcement agencies. SMEs tended to believe that their business complied with food safety legislation if they had implemented all requirements made by the environmental health practitioner (EHP) at the previous inspection. In contrast, food safety professionals viewed compliance as a proactive and continual process involving an understanding of food safety principles behind the requirements. SMEs displayed a reactive approach towards food safety compliance. SMEs saw ensuring compliance with the law as the responsibility of the local authority: the local authority identified and notifed them of specific remedial action required. More SMEs within areas of “high” education implemented the self-regulatory requirements of hazard analysis and temperature control. Significantly more SMEs in these areas exceeded the minimum legal requirements by documenting these systems following specific training courses or advisory visits from EHPs. SMEs receiving formal enforcement actions, such as improvement notices, formal cautions or prosecution, complied with the requirements at that particular time but this improvement was not sustained over time.
SMEs displayed a generalised fear of formal enforcement action. This unfocussed fear did not motivate SMEs to carry out action needed to remedy areas of non-compliance. SMEs believed that their own businesses complied already (even where the researcher identified extensive breaches of food safety law). Where non-compliance had been identified, SMEs generally did not feel that these were serious issues warranting formal enforcement action. SMEs saw compliance as a way to protect their business and reputation, rather than as a moral issue. Local authorities, particularly the actions of the EHP, were the main motivator in ensuring non-compliance was remedied in SMEs. The main barriers preventing food safety compliance in SMEs were:
- A lack of knowledge and understanding about food safety requirements and principles;
- A lack of trust in the EHP and the requirements made by them; and
- A lack of motivation due to a reactive attitude in dealing with food safety.
Different local authority interventions impact upon the compliance decision process in various ways and with varying success. Interventions that increase specific food safety knowledge within businesses were the most effective at improving conditions, e.g. advisory visits, formal inspections and subject-specific seminars (e.g. hazard analysis). These were effective throughout the compliance process. Basic food hygiene courses and food hygiene award schemes affected particular stages of the process. These were seen to improve staff knowledge, morale and implementation of good food hygiene practices. Generic written information was frequently misinterpreted and misunderstood, thus limiting its effectiveness in improving food safety compliance within SMEs. Finally, formal enforcement was a vital component of the compliance process. It acted as a last resort action for the enforcer and maintained the general fear of enforcement present in SMEs. Without it the enforcement process would become ineffectual.
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