Running a successful supermarket or grocery store is tough. Profit margins are notoriously slim, customers can be difficult to please, and overhead can crush cashflow. One of the most potentially daunting aspects of food retail, however, is the risk of making guests sick through spoiled or contaminated food.
Ensuring food safety is critical for establishing – and protecting – your brand. You want your products to be memorable because of exceptional quality and, not a run-in with an illness.
Quality and care are paramount, as mishandling of food during handling and preparation can lead to dire consequences. How can a retailer ensure that its food and drink options are safe for customers?
By prioritizing food safety essentials, retailers of all sizes can minimize risk and provide the best possible customer experience.
Food safety starts with planning
No food retailer chooses to serve tainted food to customers. Foodborne illnesses result from mistakes or lack of follow-through with safety procedures. Before a cook starts to prep for the day, planning must be a priority.
U.S. health codes set forth requirements for the proper storage, preparation and handling of food in over 1 million food establishments nationwide – including restaurants and grocery stores, as well as vending machines, cafeterias, schools, and correctional facilities. At a minimum, these requirements should be incorporated into a food retailer’s daily operations. To keep your customers safe, do more than the minimum required under codes.
Do not treat food safety essentials as a box to check off on a to-do list. Incorporate health and safety standards into the culture of your retail locations. Educate employees on the reasons behind health codes and your particular food service protocols.
Education is an important goal, but it is understandable that many retailers do the bare minimum or less when it comes to encouraging enthusiastic buy-in from employees on health and safety standards.
A common health code violation is improper food storage, such as placing raw chicken above vegetables. Explaining the reason raw chicken is always stored last at the bottom of a shelf, and the health risks raw chicken poses can help prevent future violations.
Through planning and education, the following food handling tips can become second nature to your employees.
Staying clean and sanitized
Before food is handled by anyone, it's important for employees to have clear direction when it comes to sanitation expectations. This means frequent hand washing, with anti-bacterial soap and hot water, but sanitation also extends to clothing. Dirty garments, including the aprons and chefs wear, can become a magnet for bacteria.
Cleanliness also applies to the food service areas, such as your deli and cafe. A common health code violation is the frequent use of soiled kitchen towels by cooks. A kitchen towel is a handy tool for grabbing hot pans and wiping surfaces, but it is also a contamination zone.
If a prep cook wipes down a cutting board after breaking down a case of meat product, what happens to the used rag? Education and planning can ensure that kitchen staff understands the severe risk of contamination that these rags can pose.
Health codes often call for buckets of sanitizer with submerged towels. Make sure that your food retail team follows these codes to keep customers safe.
Avoiding the “danger zone” and product loss
Beyond sanitation, some of the biggest health risks in a food service environment include the improper temperature when storing and preparing food items, as well as cross contamination.
There are several important rules when it comes to keeping food safe, but one of the most important is the two-hour rule. This rule states that food can only safely survive two hours in the "danger zone" -- any temperature that is above 40 degrees and below 140 degrees.
With this rule, hot food should stay hot, and cold food should stay cold. Take, for example, the soup of the day. When stored, the soup should be kept cold. When heated for service, it should stay heated until it is put away at the end of the day.
If the soup sits out for more than two hours, it should be tossed. There can be exceptions to this rule. For example, if it is 90 degrees in your kitchen, cold items won't last as long without refrigeration.
The "danger zone" is the reason why walk-ins, low-boys and other refrigeration equipment must be temperature-monitored closely. If your cooler is on the fritz, and the temperature spikes to, say, 55 degrees, all of its contents are in the danger zone. Without effective food safety management, you can suffer thousands of dollars in product loss due to improper refrigeration.
Other handling precautions include using dedicated cutting boards for particular ingredients. Red for meat, white for chicken, blue for fish and green for vegetables, for example. Employees should be trained on the hierarchy of food risks, where chicken and raw pork are the most dangerous products.
Making food safety easier
Looking at a few examples, it's easy to see how supermarket and grocery stores can slip up when it comes to maintaining food safety. What if the cooler breaks down during a busy service? Will someone notice in time to save food from spoilage and customers from food-borne pathogens?
There is a lot on the line in today's kitchens, but luckily, there are effective ways to tackle food safety with technology. CoInspect's food safety and quality apps help ensure that your food retail environment is as safe as possible for customers.
CoInspect is like having a health inspector in your pocket. Combining mobile software with smart sensors, CoInspect is a comprehensive solution for checking the line, maintaining temperature controls, preparing for audits, and keeping compliance records. Imagine a traditional system where an employee uses a paper checklist. This method is easy to skip or fake. CoInspect uses times stamps and unique user IDs to ensure critical checks are accurate.
Since CoInspect is deployed as a mobile app, it can be easily used by all employees, from managers to janitors. Its Smartcheck feature mixes things up, too, by randomizing questions to ensure critical items get checked more foten. You don't have to worry about employees "pencil-whipping" a checklist.
Food safety is difficult, but it couldn't be more crucial for a retailer. However, it doesn't have to be a time drag. CoInspect makes managing food safety and quality simple. For more information on how CoInspect can help your supermarket or grocery store strengthen its safety practices, click here.
Want to streamline and automate food safety across your retail operations? Try a free version of CoInspect and get started today: