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Meet the editor of... British Food Journal

An interview with: Chris Griffith

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Image: Professor Chris GriffithProfessor Chris Griffith is currently the Technical Director of Von Holy Consulting and an emeritus professor at the University of Wales. Chris has had a lifelong interest in food and catering, having been brought up in a hotel and having had 35years’ experience in teaching a wide variety of food related courses and consulting for the food industry. Whilst running a food research and consultancy unit at a UK university he worked with a multidisciplinary team to improve food safety practices at all points within the food chain from primary production, through processing, retailing and catering to consumption. In so doing, he used a range of both quantitative and qualitative techniques to examine issues ranging from the hard science of surface cleanliness and cross contamination to training efficacy, the psychology of food handling behaviour and organizational food safety culture.

British Food Journal (BFJ) covers a wide range of food issues including the microbiology of food safety through to nutrition, food production and marketing, supply chain management, consumer perceptions, health education and many other food related topics. Interdisciplinary and international, it aims to provide research that is both academic and applied, in a form that is accessible to a wide range of audiences. Now in its 114th year, it is one of the oldest and longest established of all Emerald journals. Recent topics include Nutrigenomics, organic food and farming, Fair Trade pricing, Chinese food marketing, consumers’ perceptions, food access, diet and health and food safety.

Editorial philosophy

BFJ must be one of the oldest journals around.  What are some of the main changes in its 114 year history?

Food has changed so dramatically in the last 100 years: there's been the growth in retailing, greater interest in food safety and nutrition, while marketing and trade have become far more complex and sophisticated with even greater international import and export all over the world demanding much greater traceability. In addition, anything to do with food and its delivery is much more structured, economically and scientifically. The journal reflects these changes.

You have been Editor since 2003.  What changes have you made in that time and how would you like to develop the journal?

Other than further enhancing the BFJ’s academic status as one of the premier research journals the main emphasis has been on increasing the international nature of the journal. This has been achieved by increasing the per cent of non UK based authors to over 60 per cent and greatly increasing the number of non UK based reviewers. It’s important to educate people to look beyond the "British" in our title and see the breadth of our research: we have articles on cheeses from Italy, food safety from a US and Canadian perspective, to name just a couple of examples. I’m constantly looking at ways of furthering the journal’s international research status, by which I mean research that is read internationally and is of an international calibre. Another major achievement has been our application for and granting of ISI listing in 2005 and our impact factor has subsequently steadily increased yearly [1].

Would it be true to say that you cover all aspects of food and food related research, from its microbiological and biochemical aspects to the business and management angle?

It’s true to say that the journal has a very broad range. This approach has strengths and weaknesses: the strength is that the readership is broad and the papers attract interest from all corners of industry and the world. The weakness is that we are constantly competing with the more discipline specific journals, so a biochemist might prefer to see a scientific paper published in a biochemical journal. The way I get round this is by focusing on the practical applications of the research to food, so that in considering a paper which contained microbiological research I would look at whether that research had been applied to food including food safety or spoilage, although we do also publish on the use of microorganisms in food production, especially for new foods produced from novel substrates. In the business and management field, we have a strong application to food, ranging from food production, new product development, quality assurance, food marketing or management of the supply chain. We also publish extensively in the area of consumer education and choice, including nutrition and health education, and consumer perceptions of food, such as genetic modification, as well as topical areas such as organic food, etc.

What are some of the main challenges in researching and publishing in such a multidisciplinary area?

Undoubtedly one of the main challenges of the last couple of years, linked to our increasing international profile and broad multidisciplinary nature, has been the massive increase in submitted papers. We would like to publish more and although the number of papers in each issue has increased by 40 per cent we have had to further increase our rejection rate which has inevitably disappointed some authors. Even so we have a longer backlog of accepted papers than I would like. We have to an extent compensated for this by using the electronic Earlycite facility.

Another dilemma is the fact that the journal’s defining element is food, which by its nature crosses boundaries, and as a result the journal may not have the same perceived status as a "pure" disciplinary journal. How do you overcome this? By the type of paper we have in the journal, by going out and attracting authors, by having different themed issues. In 2013 we have 3 themed issues organized and we are fortunate in having attracted the world’s leading researchers to contribute to them. The editorial board is also highly valued for the role it plays in broadcasting the journal's message.

Who are your key primary and secondary audiences?

Universities worldwide, who purchase the journal via their libraries, are probably the main audience, but we also have demand from a practitioner audience, for example environmental health practitioners, health educationalists, consumer and related organizations, and the food industry itself.

What are the most common academic/discipline areas from which authors come?

We have contributions from nutritionists, health educationalists, applied microbiologists and food safety experts, management specialists with an interest in food marketing, retailing, the supply chain, or product development, as well as people writing for us on consumer perceptions and other issues of consumer concern.

Editorial coverage

How do you ensure that work reported in your journal reaches beyond an academic audience and that its implications for practice are clear? Do you try and attract practitioner authors?

We definitely want to attract a practitioner audience – see my earlier comments about audiences. And we want practitioners to write for us. The problem we have here is that we don’t have a different standard for practitioner research; all research has to reach the same high standard. For example, we may do a special issue from a conference, where speakers included practitioners, some of whom might need help in writing up the research in a form suitable for an academic journal.

You ask your contributors to "bear in mind the international readership of the journal" – how in practical terms can they do this and how else do you ensure that your coverage remains international? 

Much of this has been covered earlier. One point to add is that while we are happy if the research is located in one country, as in for example a study of Italian cheeses, we like authors to bring in the broader implications of their research by for example situating it within the context of other similar studies, as well as highlighting generic applications.

You work a lot with conferences. Can you give examples of successful partnerships of this nature and say what it brings to both parties?

Most certainly – last year I visited 27 different countries and have already visited 9 in the first three months of 2012. It is fascinating to see that whilst some countries do have specific issues related to the nature of their food industries and consumer differences many countries are also grappling with the same problems. Different countries sometimes come up with innovative solutions and I learn something from each country I visit and I try to ensure this feeds back into the work of the journal.

Do you welcome all article types or do you have a preference for a paper which shows good solid research?

There will be a number of review type papers in the next few issues, although the balance will not change hugely. This is perhaps due to a perception in some circles that anything that is not pure research is somehow "lower grade". We do publish quite a number of research papers based on case studies, and in Vol. 107 No. 9 we published a paper "Food industry case studies: a suitable medium for publication" on how to write up case study research intended as a guide to authors.

Along with many other journals we do publish some literature reviews; we look for very good quality, breadth, some forecast of where the research is going, and a summary statement of the position of the discipline. As an example of the latter, I co-published with one of my PhD students a comprehensive review of consumer food safety studies over the past four decades, which became one of the top 100 cited papers of that year [2].

Do any particular research approaches stand out for you as being particularly noteworthy?

We accept papers which use either qualitative or quantitative approaches, although we particularly like papers that combine the two approaches – the sum of the two parts is bigger than the whole. The quantitative approach gives numerical data, while the qualitative approach gives underlying reasons. One approach which I’ve seen a couple of examples of and which I’d be happy to consider again is the Delphi technique which uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.

In 2011, t he article "A tale of two crises: the Belgian and Irish dioxin contamination incidents" won an outstanding paper award. What qualities in the paper made you offer it this award?

The three things that make an article really stand out are innovation, quality and topicality and one way of assessing this is by the interest shown by readers in the work.

Publishing issues

What is the role of your Editorial Advisory Board?

To consider whether or not something is fit to publish, to suggest themed issues, to encourage submissions by spreading the word about the journal, and to come up with the names of reviewers.

How do you ensure timeliness to market of your research and other articles in a very fast moving area?

If something is very topical, we try to fast track it so that will appear in the next available issue, so the time lag between submission and publication can be as little as four months Although this has become more difficult with the increase in papers submitted.

How do you ensure academic rigour?

There are two approaches to quality: quality control, and quality assurance. Quality control is based on reviewing. I have an "unofficial" system for assessing reviewers, using the methodology of the American Journal of Infection Control, which assesses all reviews against five criteria. Quality assurance means getting the right stuff in the first place, which means doing the background work mentioned earlier around encouraging submissions.

Looking to the future

What plans do you have for the next 18 months?

I would like to try to cut the wait between paper acceptance and publication even further and continue to improve our Impact Factor.

What are some of the key issues in food research you see coming up in the next 18 months?

In general it is "Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose!"

However, nutrition, genetic modification of food, consumer confidence in food, food safety, retailing and supply chain management will remain core themes – although possible increasingly important themes will be food and ethics, bioterrorism and papers on Nutrigenomics.

Notes

  1. The journal was accepted for inclusion in the Science Citation Index (Expanded) and Current Contents (Agriculture, Biology and Environmental Sciences)  in November 2005.
  1. Redmond, E.C. and Griffith, C.J. (2003), "Consumer food handling in the home: a review of food safety studies", Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 66, pp. 130-61. Why this article had such a wide appeal was its interest not only to food safety researchers but also to public health professionals and health educators, and the fact that it provided the basis for future research as well as for food safety education initiatives, and contained useful information on similarities and disparities of consumer knowledge, attitudes, intentions, self-reported practices and actual behaviour. It also evaluated studies in terms of research methods used for data collection, study size, country of origin, and year of completion.

Publisher's note

Professor Griffith was interviewed in March 2012.

Visit the information page for: British Food Journal