Due to its ability to colonise, grow and form in niches in food manufacturing environments, the management of Listeria monocytogenes can be complex, particularly for food manufacturing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition to an effective food safety management system, the perceptions of risk, control and responsibility within a food manufacturing business are important influential factors associated with the management of L. monocytogenes. Research exploring managerial perspectives of L. monocytogenes in food manufacturer SMEs is lacking. Consequently, this study conducted in-depth interviews (n=10) with technical leaders from food manufacturing SMEs to ascertain factors that may influence listeria management, such as factors associated with cultural dimensions.
Perceived risks associated with L. monocytogenes were related to business reputation and consumer health impacts, but such events were perceived to be unlikely. Technical leaders reported having clearly defined and well executed processes to ensure food safety; but for some, L. monocytogenes, as a single pathogen was seldom considered. Despite acknowledging that “everyone” had responsibility for ensuring control of the pathogen, technical leaders indicated that the ‘people’ attributes associated with organisational culture were difficult factors to control and manage. Trust in staff ability to assure food safety was widely discussed, with technical leaders acknowledging that food handlers may not necessarily have specific knowledge regarding L. monocytogenes. Some technical leaders perceived themselves as having the greatest levels of responsibility for L. monocytogenes.
Overall, technical leaders perceived a medium level of risk, with high levels of control and high levels of responsibility for L. monocytogenes. Optimistic bias, illusion of invulnerability, illusion of control, and perceived attribution of responsibility are discussed, which may hinder implementation of effective listeria management in SME food manufacturing businesses. Consideration of specific pathogen risks in food manufacture in relation to food safety cultural dimensions may assist development of highly targeted and effective interventions.
Exploring listeria monocytogenes perceptions in small and medium sized food manufacturers: technical leaders’ perceptions of risk, control and responsibility