Grocery stores have continuously evolved over the past couple of years. Whether it’s because of customer preferences or recent COVID precautions, grocery stores have begun to take on food safety regulations and protocols usually found in the QSR industry. Many grocery stores have begun to offer take-out-style meals ranging from soups to pizza, sandwiches, and more. A trip to your local Whole Foods or Wegmans for groceries can easily double as a trip out for lunch. Even local stores like Hannafords offer a hot foods section where shoppers can fill takeout containers with quick grab-and-go foods like mac’n’cheese or mozzarella sticks.
Because many grocery stores have begun offering this service to their customers, grocery operations resemble quick-serve restaurants more than ever. COVID has also encouraged customers who may have traditionally opted for dine-in meals, to pick something up while grocery shopping or even have groceries delivered, helping to avoid any additional points of exposure outside the home. In addition to the typical food safety considerations that take place in grocery settings like proper temperature storage and stocking, grocers will now have to consider food safety in front of house prepared food sections.
Similar to a restaurant setting, back of house grocery operations are critical. Factors ranging from humidity levels and temperature to the storage of products all present susceptibility to food safety risks. Managing sandwiches and wraps at an in-store prep area vs storing frozen poultry inventory both require attention to food safety protocol, but will differ at a task by task level. This is where a proper workflow automation system can help to streamline.
Food safety starts when inventory is delivered. If one food item is to be negatively affected during delivery or storage, it can also impact other foods in the area. One of the most important food safety rules for grocery managers to keep in mind is to avoid the mixing of foods during storage. Grocery store warehouses can be more complex than QSR storage areas, as they contain everything from dairy products to meat and poultry, as well as fresher foods that may be served ready-to-eat in the store.
There are some steps you can take to guarantee a safer and healthier environment. Be sure that employees have proper and sufficient training in sanitation, including the cleaning of food and non-food surfaces, equipment, and even personal hygiene. Always monitor storage temperatures and temperature controls throughout the day, especially when cooler doors tend to be opened more frequently during the busy parts of the day. Grocery store refrigeration could be made easier with remote temperature monitoring, which uses wireless temperature sensors to effortlessly keep your stores in compliance. With these systems, your employees can focus more time on other operational tasks instead of maintaining food safety.
Product flow is especially important when it comes to foods that have a higher risk of cross-contamination, such as raw meats coming close to ready-to-eat foods. Lastly, it’s crucial to have proper management of use-by dates and duration of shelf life for prepared foods. The last thing you want is to serve expired or rotten food to your consumers. If they have a bad experience with served foods at your store, they could even be compelled to avoid shopping for groceries there as well.
The responsibilities of food safety at a grocery store have doubled since this boom in prepared food offerings. In both environments, food safety and serving clean and healthy products to customers is a number one priority, and there are tools to ensure this is done efficiently.
Every business that involves the purchase and/or consumption of food products is under food safety scrutiny. It’s important to have a plan to protect your company from the risks of a food recall. For example, your operation should have a strategy in place to respond to a product recall. The tools you use should make it easy to communicate and manage these events. Adopt tools that will allow for better visibility and communication across every department so that every single employee can and will be informed of important information and alerts. Be sure to maintain organized and updated documentation, ideally through an automated, digital system rather than relying on daily paper logs.
One solution that the QSR industry has begun to invest in is the automation of operations for more efficiency and streamlining of daily routines. Most grocery stores have not yet been introduced to the idea of replacing paper and pencil logging with automated food safety and inventory solutions. Grocery staff are still laboriously reading food temperatures and manually documenting the results into paper records. Not only is this method more time-consuming, but it’s also equally as bad for the environment, creating a lot of unnecessary paper waste. Most quick-service restaurants have taken on using digital checklists and automated food temperature monitoring systems to make food safety processes efficient and compliant.
Utilizing this technology in a grocery setting would bring similar benefits. Wireless technology would allow teams to easily access and complete grocery cleaning checklists and compliance forms as they move through the floor. Simultaneously, managers can supervise these tasks with better visibility into which workers are complying with food safety requirements and which are not. Switching to a digital solution has allowed restaurants to achieve higher completion rates, increased customer satisfaction, and simplify operations. Grocery operations can reap the same benefits by relying on digital systems to improve inventory storage safety, safety of food on floor displays, and any foods being prepared in front of house service areas.
Temperature monitoring may be the single-most crucial operational concern for grocery managers and employees. With all of the coolers and freezers on the floor, temperature management can easily be interrupted by customers. Whether they accidentally leave a door open, or add a product to their cart and later take it out, changing their mind and leaving it behind on an unrefrigerated shelf or counter. Automated food temperature monitoring would enable workers to quickly and accurately check in on food temperatures in every freezer or cooler in the store. Monitoring can be done by employees on both individual food items or automated through sensors.
Considering that grocery stores have around ten times more freezers than restaurants do, enforcing this type of technology would be especially effective. Checking and recording food temperatures in stores would be easier if managers decide to take on a digital solution. It would help improve accuracy, safety, and food safety compliance in grocery stores.
Now more than ever, it seems as if grocery stores and quick-service restaurants are blending into each other. As these two industries begin to take on similar tactics, food safety must remain a priority. Many solutions that restaurants have adopted, such as going digital, should be considered in other industries like grocery. Though the details of food safety risks may differ from each industry, turning towards automated systems for digital checklists and remote temperature monitoring will offer the same benefits for grocery stores.