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Food Law Compliance amongst SMEs and effective mechanisms for communication of laws and Best Practice.
Project Code: E03005
Momenta (AEA Technology PLC)
This report forms the final report for research project EO3005: Food Law Compliance
Amongst Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Effective Mechanisms for
Communication of Laws and Best Practice.
The project was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency in March 2002 to
identify the main barriers to effective communication with SMEs, understand what
types of communication are most effective, and develop new pilot communication
mechanisms that would encourage SMEs to take on board good food hygiene
The context for the project was the large number of small and medium-sized
enterprises in the UK and the diversity of types of food businesses they run (for
example, corner shops, delicatessens, farmers’ market stalls and mobile hot food
vendors). Many of these SMEs are 'micro' businesses.
Not only are owner/managers of such businesses under considerable time pressure,
the extent and manner in which these businesses become aware of their obligations
The comparative effectiveness on food hygiene matters of routes of communication
and the tools used to disseminate specific information (e.g. flyers) has never been
systematically examined. The project set out to provide information for the first time
about the success such channels have in reaching particular audiences and the
extent to which they are able to influence behaviour.
The project was divided into five tasks. The first task was desk research, looking at
existing research into best practice communication with SMEs and learning from the
lessons found. The second task was field research. Eight focus groups and 200
telephone surveys were conducted with SMEs, Environmental Health Officers
(EHOs), business support organisations and suppliers. The aim of this task was to
gather data on existing practices and perceptions. The third task was analysis of the
findings from the desk and field research. The project sought to identify the critical
success factors for effective communication mechanisms to help SMEs comply with
legal requirements and follow best practice.
Tasks 4 and 5 were market testing and reporting. The results from tasks 1 to 3
showed that one of the most effective ways of getting across information was to go
via intermediary groups (such as trade associations, community groups, etc.). The
research also identified that communication with some SME food businesses run or
managed by ethnic minorities posed unique challenges.
Seven factsheets were produced covering food-related practices in a range of
religions and cultures. A pilot database network of ethnic minority intermediary
groups that would be able to disseminate Food Standards Agency information about
food hygiene regulations and best practice to their members was developed. The
pilot database concentrated on business support organisations offering advice to
people of Asian origin in the West Midlands area.
The project team collated contact data on various media channels that could be used
to effectively target the audience with food hygiene information. This included
journals and publications aimed at small food businesses and media aimed at ethnic
minority groups, such as Asian Trader magazine and the BBC Asian Radio Network.
The project set out to identify the key barriers to effective communication with SMEs.
- Cultural and attitudinal
- Comprehension and implementation.
Cultural and attitudinal barriers relate to the negative attitude that our research
revealed existed towards good food hygiene practice amongst SME food businesses.
It is viewed as an inconvenience and a hindrance to commercial success, and not as
an important part of it.
Regulatory barriers were manifested in several ways:
- The regulations are open to interpretation, which causes confusion
- The manner in which they are explained is confusing and often too technical
- They are not prescriptive enough
- They are not industry-specific
- The regulations do not take account of the different roles and abilities ofindividuals.
Comprehension is a main barrier for two reasons. Firstly, there are an increasingly
large number of ethnic minority food businesses in the UK whose owners and
employees do not have English as their first language. In addition to the translation
problem this presents, many are not literate in their native language.
Secondly, comprehension is an issue because a number of people employed in the
food industry, owner/managers as well as employees, do not have the required
abilities and education to interpret food hygiene regulations and guidance
Implementation exists as a barrier due to a lack of willingness to adopt the
regulations or good practice. Good food hygiene practice is not seen as key to
business success. Also, there are claims from the SMEs that there is a lack of
supporting material and advice that adequately transfer the food hygiene legislation
into practical steps and measures.
The project also set out to identify the most effective mechanisms for communication
with SMEs. These were identified as follows:
Printed materials that:
- Are simple
- Are practical
- Make good use of examples
- Use visual explanations
- Are industry-specific
- Are consistent in terms of terminology, tone and style.
Face-to-face meetings that are:
- Advisory and non-confrontational
- Delivered by a trusted source.
Using EHOs to deliver educational messages and best practice is considered the
most effective and reliable channel of communication.
Intermediaries have a vital role to play in disseminating information to those SMEs
that do not have regular interaction with EHOs and in encouraging SMEs to go to
their local EHO for advice.
Finally, the project set out to develop new pilot tools. This was done in the
development of a pilot database of ethnic minority intermediaries that can be used to
disseminate information to SMEs.
Seven factsheets were also developed that explain the religious and cultural
significance of food in the major minority religions and cultures within the UK. These
can be used by the Food Standards Agency to inform the development of their
campaigns and to increase understanding of the different significances of food within
Did the project meet its aims?
The project was subject to a change of direction after Task 3 due to the fact that the
Food Standards Agency’s Communications Division had already implemented some
of the key recommendations from the first three stages of the project. Consequently,
the focus of the project changed from communications techniques with SME food
businesses in general to harder-to-reach groups, such as ethnic minorities.
Therefore, it was still able to achieve its aim of providing information for the first time
about the success different bodies have in reaching particular audiences and the
extent to which they are able to influence behaviour.
It was identified that EHOs and intermediary organisations, such as solicitors,
accountants and community organisations, are considered the most reliable sources
of information, with practical, hard-copy material being the most preferred format.
This knowledge should help the Food Standards Agency develop more effective
communications campaigns for SME food businesses, for example, the Food
Standard Agency’s National Food Hygiene Campaign. Please see http://www.food.gov.uk.
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