Impact of context on food safety management systems in fresh produce chains

K.K. Kirezieva

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU



Background and aim

This research was a part of a project of the European Commission called VEG-i-TRADE, aimed at identifying possible impacts of climate change and globalisation on safety of fresh produce. VEG-i-TRADE formed a multidisciplinary team of scientists from different disciplines, representatives from the food industry and other stakeholders from the European Union and third party countries. The objective of this research was to investigate the influence of context on status of food safety management systems (FSMS) in the fresh produce chain. Under context, we aimed to study the broad context in which companies operate, including food safety policy, supply chain, and climate that may directly and indirectly influence the actual set-up and operation of FSMS. Therefore, an interdisciplinary approach was employed to link concepts from different fields, and to provide scientific evidence about the possible role of the systems in the broad context in setting and operating FSMS in companies. The scientific challenge was to employ an interdisciplinary approach and bridge the gap between disciplines such as food technology, quality management, political economy, and supply chain management. The approach that was used could also be defined as transdisciplinary, as it was problem-oriented and involved companies, sector organisations and academia, thus, relating stakeholders/problem owners and scientists.


Chapters 2 and 3 of this thesis describe the development of a diagnostic tool to assess the status of FSMS and riskiness of their company specific context. The tool allows assessment of the FSMS activities, FSMS output and context factors that affect decision-making in the FSMS (so called, FSMS context). The latter include product, production, organisation, and chain characteristics. The tool allows assessment that is independent from implemented legislation, guidelines, or standards. Moreover, the tool provides for mapping of FSMS and their context over supply chains, different countries, and sectors.

The diagnostic tool was applied in three case studies of leafy greens production regions in Belgium, Norway, and Spain (chapter 4). Moreover, a theoretical framework was developed to explore the broad context in which companies operate. The latter was defined as including the sub-systems of: food safety governance, agro-climatic, market and public policy environments. The companies operating in favourable broad context, including favourable climate, big companies in integrated market, and stringent standards as a result of market self-regulation, have demonstrated advanced FSMS, good information about the output and supporting organisational characteristics. The FSMS of the companies that were operating in less favourable broad context, either in fragmented market with small companies or in less favourable climate, have demonstrated less mature FSMS. As a conclusion, we postulate that the FSMS output is a function of the broad context in a country and sector, the FSMS context in a company, and implemented food safety management system.

Market and supply chain governance were further investigated in chapter 5, with a special focus on cooperatives. Case studies were performed in four cooperatives, with different supply chain governance of transactions. Results suggested that high vertical integration has a positive influence on FSMS. However, when cooperatives become too large and complex, horizontal collaboration decreases and may negatively influence FSMS.

Chapter 6 dove into the factors determining differences between companies operating under the European Union laws, and companies in emerging and developing countries exporting to the EU. Data analysis revealed that the main factor that was determining the differences between companies was not their location, but the availability of information, expertise, and collaboration within the supply chain, which was linked to the increased integration of supply chains triggered by the stringent requirements of private standards. Another important factor was linked to the support by sector organisations and NGOs for small and medium companies, in cases when supply chains are less integrated and only national standards or GlobalGAP are followed. The companies with lowest scores of their FSMS were linked to lack of support in supply chain or country, and no standards or guidelines implemented. These companies were only small ones located in developing and emerging countries.

The pressures of climate change on safety management in fresh produce farms were explored in a Delphi study (chapter 7). The experts were from countries in the global North - with industrialized food systems, and in the global South - with structured and traditional food systems. The identified pressures were linked to contamination of water resources and production environment with microorganisms, pesticide residues, mycotoxins and heavy metals. Response strategies were defined for each pressure, including coping strategies immediately after a pressure occurs, and adaptation strategies to increase adaptive capacity. The insights from the study revealed that a first response to climate change will be realised by the FSMS activities implemented in companies. The experts stressed the need to strengthen some of the activities, and validate their effectiveness for the changed circumstances. Likelihood of the most pressures was assessed as higher for the countries from the global south, which was explained by existing adaptations in the global north. It was proposed that the adaptive and coping capacities of companies, regions and sectors are determined by the currently available adaptation and coping strategies.

The role of the broad context for the food safety management research and practice is discussed in chapter 8. It is highlighted that systemic risks can occur at the junction between different social, political and natural systems, and they need to be taken into account in the overall food safety governance. Systems thinking approaches are advocated to explain the relationships between systems and their synergic effects.


The research described in this thesis demonstrated that FSMS are influenced not only by the narrow FSMS context of a company, with its product, production, organisation, and chain, but also by the broad context in a country and sector. The broad context involves the agro-climatic, market and public policy environments that can affect the overall food safety governance. Food safety governance includes different public, private or hybrid organisations aimed at enforcing standards and guidelines into companies’ specific FSMS.

Market and particularly supply chain integration play an important role for capacity building and maturation of the FSMS. The highest degrees of integration are driven by private interests imposed by private (brand) standards, and result in advanced FSMS. Baseline standards putting minimum requirements from a public health perspective result in basic FSMS, not adapted, and tested for own production circumstances. Vertical integration in the supply chain is particularly important in developing and emerging economies, where institutional environments are sometimes weaker – struggling with the set-up and enforcement of legislation, lacking produce, and sector organisations to support farmers. In developed economies in the European Union, cooperatives play an important role to support farmers. However, their vertical expansion may have negative impact on FSMS possibly related to loss of social capital and members’ motivation.

Last but not least, FSMS need to continuously evolve and adapt to new pressures like the ones triggered by climate change. However, this is not always within the capabilities of a single farm or company, and the adaptive capacity dependents on the other systems in the broad context of the countries and sectors.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Boekel, Tiny, Promotor
  • Luning, Pieternel, Co-promotor
  • Jacxsens, L., Co-promotor, External person
Award date17 Apr 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462572591
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • food safety
  • climatic change
  • effects
  • food policy
  • supply chain management
  • fresh products


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