Organizational unlearning: A risky food safety strategy?

Louise Manning, Wyn Morris, Ian Birchmore

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Strategically unlearning specific knowledge, behaviors, and practices facilitates product and process innovation, business model evolution, and new market opportunities and is essential to meet emergent supply chain and customer requirements. Indeed, addressing societal concerns such as climate change and net zero means elements of contemporary practice in food supply chains need to be unlearned to ensure new practices are adopted. However, unlearning is a risky process if crucial knowledge is lost, for example, if knowledge is situated in the supply base not the organization itself, or there is insufficient organizational food safety knowledge generation, curation, and management when new practices/processes are designed and implemented. An exploratory, critical review of management and food safety academic and gray literature is undertaken that aims to consider the cycle of unlearning, learning, and relearning in food organizations and supply chains with particular emphasis on organizational innovation, inertia, and the impact on food safety management systems and food safety performance. Findings demonstrate it is critical with food safety practices, such as duration date coding or refrigeration practices, that organizations “unlearn” in a way that does not increase organizational, food safety, or public health risk. This paper contributes to extant literature by highlighting the organizational vulnerabilities that can arise when strategically unlearning to promote sustainability in a food supply context. Mitigating such organizational, food safety, and public health risk means organizations must simultaneously drive unlearning, learning, and relearning as a dynamic integrated knowledge acquisition and management approach. The research implications are of value to academics, business managers, and wider industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1633-1653
Number of pages21
JournalComprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
Issue number3
Early online date25 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 08 May 2023


  • food safety
  • knowledge acquisition
  • knowledge management
  • performance
  • risk
  • unlearning
  • Learning
  • Food Safety
  • Organizational Innovation


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