Companies should get to see the benefits of research!

Interview with Mari Nevas, Head of Department, University Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Food Hygiene and Environmental Health 

Mari’s research is based on evaluating  food control measures, which are the actions taken by the food control authorities to make sure that the  food business operators (FBOs) are fulfilling the requirements set by legislation to reduce and eliminate food associated risks. These measures involve all stages in the food chain; primary production, processing, packaging, storage, transportation, and retail. This type of research requires close collaboration with both private and public organizations working in the field of food business. Mari is also conducting research on other fields related to control performed by veterinarians, e.g. animal welfare control or the ways of using antimicrobials on food production animals.

 Why is company collaboration important in your field of research?  

“As an example; we utilize the information gained from FBOs; such as questionnaires, on-site observations and the data collected by central authorities as the material of our studies. We may e.g. inquire about their opinions on the benefits of food control procedures and evaluate the knowledge they have on food hygiene issues. When combined with other related material on the FBOs in question, this provides us with important information on the food safety evaluation processes as well as the benefits and challenges associated with these. With this information, we may then proceed in thinking about solutions on how to improve food control. “

Is collaboration important when it comes to teaching?

“We focus on evaluating the food safety mainly from the authorities’ point of view, so FBOs are not actively involved within the teaching, but the local veterinarians and food safety authorities often participate in teaching to share their knowledge and expertise with students. At the university, we might not be aware of all current issues that are taking place in the local food control area, so when it comes to training the hands-on stuff, it is very useful to have external stakeholders involved. These local experts can tell about the real-life conditions to join the theory with the practice. It is also very useful that we can co-operate with experts from the Finnish Food Safety Authority when teaching control practices within very narrow and highly specialized fields such as food labeling or food additives. Also, by  having the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry involved within teaching, we can update the students on current trends and upcoming changes in legislation.”

“We cannot be aware of all the things that are happening outside in the real world.”

 Has any of your projects resulted in societal or economic impact?

“We try to share with the central authorities our understanding on research based knowledge of affecting the policies that improve food control procedures. Certain actions have also taken place in developing the food control actions that have been encouraged and supported by our studies. We also actively participate in commenting the draft laws in this sector, based on the research findings.

What kinds of challenges do you face in company collaboration?

“It can be difficult to convince FBOs, such as restaurants or food plants to take part in our studies, and respond to the questionnaires or interviews besides their normal duties, especially, in case they do not recognize the benefits for themselves. It might be difficult to see the benefit, as the results may realize after a long period, e.g. through impact on legislation or other decision-making. Although we have also done some hands-on inspection studies by visiting different restaurants and observing the hygiene procedures, getting closer to see the actual working practices is not easy, as these visits may be seen as an inconvenient from the FBOs point of view.”

“Communication of research results is essential if we want to get companies interested in our research.”

How could we motivate more companies to collaborate with researchers in your field?

“The outcomes of the research should be made more prominent to the companies. We should share trade journals and short papers with inspectors and food related companies to transfer the important messages of our results. Hopefully, these reports would also be picked up by the local food units and have an effect on how food control is carried out. Also companies could gain positive publicity by having an interest in science and participating in our studies so that new knowledge can be created. This message should be emphasized with companies.”

The Business Collaboration Team offered all faculties an opportunity to pilot a new service,”The Business Collaboration Accelerator”. The Faculty of Medicine is our first pilot case. In this blog series, we interview 15 veterinarians about their experiences with industry.