The importance of food safety in grocery stores has had new meaning since the beginning of 2020. Although COVID-19 has brought about new regulations and health precautions, the fundamentals are still just as crucial to keep in mind when operating a supermarket. It’s easy to overlook the everyday threats to food safety in these stores, but the smallest slip-up may cause detrimental damages.
Considering the wide array of products that a grocery store offers, from raw meats to poultry to dry foods, it’s important to know every step of the supply process, from storage to shelve stocking. Many factors during the food sourcing process can negatively affect the health of consumers. Here, we’ve broken down the everyday risks into four main categories that any grocery operator should be on the lookout for.
Hygiene, wherever you go, is heavily emphasized. Especially in a food service environment, there’s no question that it should be a top priority for all employees. Without proper hygiene from the staff, it could cause contamination to foods during the preparation process.
Handwashing may seem trivial when you look at the bigger picture, but in reality, hands can easily transfer bacteria from a contaminated surface to fresh food. Even if you take away the implications of COVID, employees should still be washing their hands on a regular basis. This means washing their hands after handling raw foods and poultry and machinery that has been used to cut or prepare them. Employees who work at deli or meat counters are handling raw food their entire shift. These workers must understand and follow hygiene protocols strictly. Other instances that require hand washing are:
Hygiene also doesn’t just include having clean hands. It’s also being aware of personal habits that may harm food safety. These actions include smoking, spitting, touching your hair, face, or clothing that may easily pick up bacteria, eating around fresh produce or raw foods, or coming into work while under the weather. Also, be conscious of any open wounds or infections you have that could possibly come into contact with foods. Lastly, wearing watches or jewelry could be damaging if they are prone to coming loose and could potentially fall into foods.
Hygiene should also be applied to non-food objects around the store, such as shopping carts, door handles, register payment areas, etc. It’s important to sanitize and clean these items as often as possible, as they can pick up bacteria and germs from customers. Shoppers bring their carts around everywhere they go in the store, so pathogens can be easily spread through their shopping trip.
A big concern when it comes to raw foods, such as poultry, is that they can easily pick up bacteria along the food supply process. From the farm/vendor to the shelf, there are many steps where contamination can occur. Along with external contamination, raw meats, fish, and poultry can carry germs and diseases that can harm grocery shoppers if they aren’t handled and packaged properly. These products that are prepared, packaged, and labeled in store must follow the same food safety guidelines and practices that are enforced in a food processing facility or restaurant. Foods like cooked meats, cheeses, or baked goods need proper handling to prevent any food-borne infections, especially if your grocery store has a bakery or deli section.
It all doesn’t just occur in the back rooms either. Contamination can also come from shoppers. Like we’ve probably all done, shoppers often tend to handle produce, such as apples, tomatoes, vegetables, etc. to pick the best or biggest ones from the whole bunch. However, during this process, we leave behind unwanted products that have been touched and handled with no care. It’s important to make sure that these products are still safe for other shoppers by having them cleaned/sprayed often and consistently.
Recognize products that can be eaten raw and are grown near the ground, such as celery or strawberries. They can pick up soil particles that may not be as easily cleaned or seen. Ensure that these foods are not stocked or placed next to cleaner produce, reducing the risk to customers.
Pests are also a big issue in supermarkets. Obviously, in a setting where there’s a lot of food out in the open, unwanted pests can be unknowingly attracted. In your store, be sure to watch out for rodents, flies, cockroaches, and other creepy crawlers.
Rodents are usually attracted to easily accessible food and water, often placed low to the ground or even on the ground in back rooms, and gnaw on packaging. Not only that, but they will also contaminate surfaces they run through with urine, droppings, or dirt from their feet. Keep a watchful eye on loading bays where products are temporarily stored or spilled, as well as food waste areas because it could also provide an entry point for them as well. It isn’t hard for rats and mice to find a way into the building, considering there’s front entry points, back rooms, pipes, crashes and holes in doors or windows, etc. Be wary of any of these potential entrances, as well as foods or spills that could attract rodents if not cleaned up properly and thoroughly.
Ways to keep rodents away from your store include breaking down cardboard and wood boxes from deliveries as soon as possible. Sanitize and clean regularly and thoroughly. Make sure spills are cleaned up immediately and avoid leaving out unsealed food or fresh produce.
Flies and cockroaches may be a bit more difficult to identify, since they’re smaller than rodents.
Flies, such as houseflies or fruit flies, can carry bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause disease. Over 100 pathogens have been found on flies. They tend to feed on fecal matter, like garbage, food waste, or rotten products, and then will transfer contamination to cleaner areas and foods that they will also feed on. Cockroaches are attracted to even the smallest residues left by food from preparation, spills, or food waste. These pests can be brought into grocery stores through deliveries if proper cleaning and safety protocols aren’t followed, and will feed on decaying foods, mold, etc. You can find them making a home in shelving, cracks in the walls and floors, drains, and even inside equipment and machinery. Without a system forcing proper sanitation and hygiene on a daily if not shift-by-shift basis, your store could be prone to these infestations.
As previously mentioned, poor maintenance of the building can create additional issues for managers, employees, and the health of consumers. Without proper maintenance, pests are easily let in through windows, doors, drains, sewers, cracks, screens, and holes in roofs. Inadequate care of the building also creates a place for these rodents and insects to build a home.
Proper management of dumpsters and garbage is something to look out for. By not properly disposing of food waste, you can incidentally attract rodents, bugs, and other pests.
Food safety risks are everywhere, and it’s not something just managers need to be aware of. Employees and managers also need to ensure the safety of products as well. Attention to detail is essential to running a successful business, and grocery stores are no exception. Without proper care for food safety, the well-being of both customers and workers are put at stake.