Thesis subject

Effectiveness and dynamics of quality management systems

Topic 1. Exploring dynamic systems analysis to support risk-based auditing of quality assurance standards for food chains.

The trend towards consumption of, amongst others, organically produced food, sustainably produced foods, and care about social aspects of food production has stimulated the production of food with specific labels, such as FAIR TRADE, MCS (Marine Stewardship Council Scheme), Carbon Foot Print, just to mention a few.  However, recent issues with sustainability labels has increased consumers’ sceptic towards these quality seals and emphasised the desire for more trustworthy labelling. As a consequence, assurance of  label reliability has put additional pressures on the quality management systems of companies.
A common strategy to evaluate the effectiveness and performance of quality systems is by auditing. Internal auditing by internal company experts and external auditing by competent authorities or certified bodies check the compliance to quality assurance requirements. These audits are often costly and time consuming, and do not always provide the full guarantees they aim for.
Currently, there is a tendency to shift from traditional auditing (check on compliance to standards) towards risk-based auditing (RBA) in the food supply chain. In RBA, risk concepts should be integrated into the strategies and approaches used for management systems. Though this concept has been applied in some other sectors e.g. finances, veterinary medicines there is yet restricted scientific knowledge on how to design risk-based audits for food applications.
Control bodies collect data for inspection and certification purposes according to the EU regulations and large datasets exist. However, there is yet little knowledge on how (existing) auditing datasets (e.g. on sustainability standards) could be used as input for risk-based auditing, and what modelling tools could be useful.
The thesis is part of a PhD project on “Risk-based management in food supply chains exploring the applicability of systems thinking and use of multi-method models (such as serious gaming, agent-based modelling)”. The aim of the thesis project is to identify crucial technological and management factors that affect the reliability of sustainability labels.

The study includes a literature analysis on auditing, risk based auditing and sustainability labelling, as basis for the development of a causal model that could be further elaborated using serious gaming as tool. The next step is to work with big datasets in collaboration with the PhD/company to get first indications of risk areas in auditing of quality management systems assuring quality seals. The project is suitable for 1-2 MSc students each working on another case: FAIR trade, bio label, MSC.


For more information on this topic please contact Jochen Kleboth.

Topic 2. Understanding food safety culture on hygiene behaviour in food production.

Safety is a permanent threat in the food supply chain up to final preparation and food consumption. Consumers want guarantees, organizations concern about brand reputation and shareholder value, governments lack necessary resources to inspect all businesses in the food supply chain, and media ensure that incidences and outbreaks are reported. Food producers at all levels of the production chain up to food service establishments have the responsibility that proper safety and sanitation practices are followed to ensure the health of their customers. The primary focus of food companies - establishing food safety management systems - is on implementing the required quality assurance guidelines and standards resulting in process monitoring systems, preventive control measures, technological infrastructures (e.g. hygienic equipment design,  zoning), and procedures to guide people in executing their safety tasks.

However, studies about self-reported behaviour and observational studies suggested that unless systems are in place, food handlers often do not comply with required safety tasks. Systems are especially under pressure when dealing with susceptible high-risks products (such as ready-to-eat food) made under vulnerable production circumstances. The increasing awareness on the impact of people on food safety boosted the efforts in training and safety communication, but the effects on sustainable changes in food handlers’ behaviour seem yet limited. Recent studies suggested that collective food safety practices in an organization can be only achieved by taking into account both food safety culture (FSC) and food safety management. The importance of organizational culture, human behaviour, and systems thinking is well-documented in the occupational safety and health fields but the scientific literature on these topics are limited in the field of food safety management.
The thesis is part of a PhD project on understanding impact of national culture on food safety culture and hygiene practices in food factories in small food manufactories: a case study in Zimbabwe. The aim of the thesis study is to get insight in the concept of food safety culture as basis for the development of a food safety culture assessment tool
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The study includes a systematic review on the concepts culture, safety culture and food safety culture, combined with expert discussions, to get insight in the concept of food safety culture and its possible relation to hygiene performance of food handlers in (small) food manufacturing industries. When the thesis will be combined, there is a possibility to test an initial food safety culture assessment tool in various food manufacturing sites in Zimbabwe.

For more information on this topic please contact Shingai Nyarugwe.

Topic 3. Influence technological and people related factors on performance mycotoxin monitoring systems for bulk products affecting chemical safety.

Mycotoxins in food and feed can have a negative impact on the health of respectively people and animals. Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by various fungi species. Their toxicity and health impact depends on the type of mycotoxin. In Europe, specific legislation has been established on mycotoxins to enable the control of this chemical hazard in foodstuffs and animal feed. For example, Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 describes the requirements for food, Directive 2002/32/EC and its amendments is about requirements on undesirable substances in animal feed. The Commission Regulation (EC) no 401/2006 lays down the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the levels of mycotoxins in foodstuffs and Commission Regulation (EC) no 619/2011. In practice, various factors complicate the implementation/adequate execution of such monitoring systems, e.g. samples need to be taken from bulk products with inhomogeneous distribution of mycotoxins, sampling from large containers in harbours and railway wagons put demands on physical skills, awareness and attitude of food handlers/inspector, etc. The procedure is time consuming, it comprises a comprehensive sampling plan and requires considerable amounts of samples to be taken and subsequently analysed.
The aim of this study is to get  insight in the factors (including people related ones) that contribute to inadequate/inconsistent execution of mycotoxin monitoring systems, in order to design a blueprint for a pragmatic sampling plan uncompromised for reliability and accuracy.

The study includes a concise literature analysis to evaluate an framework made by a previous thesis student, followed by the development of a systematic assessment tool to analyse risk factors in mycotoxin monitoring systems in practice, data collection could be done in the internship at different locations and with different bulk products, depending on the outcome research and possibilities at Cargill.


For more information on this topic please contact Wilma Taverne.

Topic 4.  Develop model to predict the dioxin risks in crude oils/fats and products made thereof.

Dioxin in food, especially vegetable oils, has gained worldwide attention because of the significant economic losses associated with their impact on human and animal health. Dioxins belong to the group of organic polyhalogenated compounds and are environmental pollutants. Out of the 210 different dioxin compounds (they differ in their number and location of Chlorine bounds, these different forms are also called congeners) only 17 dioxin congeners have a toxicity factor and are regulated. Crude vegetable oils contain various dioxin congeners and in different concentrations. The European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) database reports products exceeding legal limits for rapeseed and palm oil by-products. Based on the risk assessment of FEDIOL (branch organisation for oil and fats) also crude coconut oil may contain dioxin. This means that there are two groups of risky products being the crude oil and the by-products made from the crude oil, which was in compliance.  Data showed that less than 0.01 per cent of the crude palm oil samples exceeded the maximum limits over the past five years and that the quality of Malaysian palm oil is comparable to other crude vegetable oils. However, after refining of the crude oil in Europe (and other crude oil importing countries), the palm fatty acid distillates contained too high levels of some of the toxic dioxin forms, whereas the original crude oil complied with the legal requirements. The current legislation sets requirements on the toxic forms of dioxins in oil and by-products based on toxic equivalences. After processing, final products may contain too high toxic levels due to processing resulting in losses and high costs for monitoring.  A recent study suggested that the congener profile of the crude oil provide indications on the possible (environmental) contamination routes at primary production. If this is really the case, then the congener profile could provide a prediction of its source and what could happen during processing.

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In previous thesis studies and PhD research, data have been collected on dioxin contamination sources and congener profiles. The aim of this study is to develop a model to predict the risk of dioxin contamination in supply chain using these data. The work builds further on earlier research on the identification of contamination routes, factors influencing the risk on contamination and the effect of processing.

The study includes a concise literature analysis to evaluate the previous analytical framework on sources of dioxin contamination and control, and to get a deeper understanding of the possible relation between congener profiles and source of contamination. The model (Monte Carlo simulation) building will be done in close collaboration with the PhD student. The thesis can be combined with an internship at Cargill providing time to validate the model as well.

For more information on this topic please contact Wilma Taverne.

Topic 5. Analysing robustness of process and chain control measures aimed at reducing risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in ready-to-eat foods; towards a system analysis tool.

The increasing incidence of food poisoning outbreaks linked Listeria over the past 10 years suggests that current L. monocytogenes control systems and procedures are not sufficiently robust for the consistent assurance of product safety in the Ready-To-Eat chilled foods sector. RTE companies put much effort in implementing control measures as part of their food safety management system, but additional measures along the chain seem to be necessary. The RTE complexity of the RTE supply chain network and the high vulnerability of RTE for Listeria contamination put pressures on the robustness of control measures along the chain. Although much research on listeria contamination is available, fewer studies applied a systems approach taking into account both technological as managerial/chain/governance factors (regulations, standards, enforcement practices, etc.) that can influence effectiveness of current listeria control.
The overall aim of the study is to get insight in possible causes for loss of L. monocytogenes control in Chilled RTE supply chain networks. It involves the systematic analysis of technological and people related factors increasing risk on listeria contamination (root cause analysis) on company level. Moreover, it encompasses a systematic analysis of (possible) control measures taken in the chain environment (e.g. supply chain collaboration, governmental measures/enforcement activities, consumer information, etc.) to control listeria contamination, and in-depth insight in the supply chain network structure.. The MSc thesis project will be further demarcated.


For more information please contact Pieternel Luning.

Topic 6. Barriers for Reformulating Food Products for Health.

Many consumers have an interest in healthy/healthier food products. In order to make product purchase choices for consumers easier with respect to health aspects of foods health logos have been developed, e.g. in the Netherlands by the Choices logo or “Vinkjes”. In order to put such a logo on the front of pack of products, they have to meet strict criteria for e.g. salt, added sugar, fat composition, fiber content and energy density. This logo aims at enabling healthier food choices for consumers, but also at stimulating food companies to develop healthier products that meet the requirements of these logos.
This project aims at understanding the technological and other barriers that companies perceive when implementing these criteria in various product categories and to compare this with possible solutions by looking at the state of the art in the scientific literature and other solutions e.g. related to regulation.
The project will be in collaboration with the Choices logo foundation.
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For more information please contact Teresa Oliviero.