During our ‘Food Safety @ the Last Mile: Food Safety and Sanitation Challenges and Solutions for Food Retail’ presentation, three experts discussed the unique food hygiene and sanitation challenges and solutions encountered in the food retail sector.
Amit M. Kheradia and Tara Dryer from Remco, and Alec Kyriakides, an independent food safety consultant (formerly head of technical operations at Sainsbury Supermarket in the UK), were asked so many great questions during the presentation that we were unable to answer them all at the time. Below are six of the questions and answers we thought you might find interesting. Some questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
1. What do you see as future trends in food retail regarding the way people buy food, and are there any implications for food safety?
One interesting trend is the ability to buy whatever you want, wherever you want, and whenever you want it. It is that ultimate food availability experience, happening mainly online, that now makes it easy to set up and sell a food product directly. For instance, if you put ‘food’ into the search field of Facebook Marketplace, you’ll be amazed at what comes up - anyone can supply you with a food product! This certainly presents fantastic opportunities for food entrepreneurs, and for consumers to get what they want.
But - it’s unknown whether the food safety enforcement community can consistently keep up with policing this emerging field, especially as it already struggles with covering what’s already out there in traditional retail. The enforcement of food safety controls necessary in these new e-commerce delivery frameworks creates challenges and opportunities. We need to consider a new future-proof approach to manage this emerging risk to public health and food safety.
Note from the Author
In the US, under the umbrella of FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety, there is a collaborative initiative to leverage technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food safety system to bend the curve of foodborne illness outbreaks. The New Era Blueprint is comprised of Core Element #3 on ‘New Business Models and Retail Modernization’, which should provide more insights on possible solutions for innovative food retail business models. Such a regulations-initiated drive is not currently in place in Europe.
2. With the rise of services such as Just Eat and Uber Eats, we cannot control the time and the holding temperature of our food once it leaves our store. Do these services compromise food safety and is there anything we can do to help mitigate that?
The biggest risk will be with foods that must remain at certain temperatures to inhibit microbial growth, such as hot or chilled ready-to-eat prepared foods and raw meats in grocery deliveries. For foods that require time-temperature controls to limit microbial growth, hot foods must be kept at 63° Celsius or above, and chilled foods must be maintained at 8° Celsius or below. If there are temperature-related danger zone violations, the food product will typically need to be discarded.
There is certainly an increased risk of temperature violation when food is transported, but this has always been a challenge. The key to minimising temperature violation risks is to ensure that the food delivery service:
- has effective control measures in place;
- monitors these controls;
- has an action plan if violations occur;
- and can provide you with evidence of this.
This plan should include actions in the event of transport delays and vehicle breakdowns. As a retailer, you must also ensure the sanitary condition of vendors’ transport vehicles and containers, and their controls related to prevention of accidental or intentional product adulteration.
3. We work in a storefront deli. What kind of equipment and maintenance would you recommend?
The retail deli is certainly a high-risk area, as Listeria and other pathogen cross-contamination incidences are not uncommon. As explained during the webinar, one of the major violations here is the lack of a risk-based cleaning regime for the slicer equipment.
Here are some recommendations on deli equipment selection, cleaning, and maintenance:
- Use hygienically designed equipment. This will improve cleanability and reduce the time required to achieve an acceptable level of decontamination.
- Develop suitable, validated sanitation methods for equipment and surfaces. Use these methods at an appropriate frequency and monitor and record their efficacy.
- The sanitation methods and frequency of equipment and surface sanitation should be based on risk. For example, cleaning and disinfection of slicers before use and routinely after every 4 hours would be one key risk-based recommendation.
- Maintaining the integrity of food contact equipment and surfaces is key. Scratched and damaged surfaces can become a source of contamination - a scratch just 25 microns wide is big enough for Listeria to grow to a 10-lane highway in, and just a few of those cells can make someone sick.
- Although non-food contact equipment and surfaces present less of a risk, they should also be cleaned and maintained.
Here are some useful links to retail deli guidance for more information:
4. Where is it most important to have high-quality cleaning and material handling tools in our grocery? For example, what is wrong with using a wiping or dusting cloth to clean shelves where pre-packaged foods are stored? Do I really need high-quality brooms and mops just to clean the floors?
There is always a need for good quality, durable cleaning tools (along with a tool management program) at every level of the food operation, and even in non-food areas. It is less expensive overall than dealing with the consequences of a hazard or an unsanitary experience in a store.
Of course, there would be nothing wrong with using dry wipes and dusters on shelf racks where prepackaged foods are stored, as long as the wipes and dusters do not themselves become carriers or spreaders of contamination.
There are a few different tool usage observations we have encountered in retail stores:
- Dusters to clean shelves and counters: There is a risk of aerosolising dust to high-risk areas. Alternatively, use microfibre cloths. These trap dust particles and can also be used damp without chemicals to remove sticky or oily contamination.
- Cloth/bucket or mop/bucket to clean floors: As you progress with the floor cleaning, the water you use becomes more and more contaminated. Reusing this dirty water only serves to spread contamination and is not advisable. Alternatively, use a microfibre flat mopping system (dry or damp). Mop heads can be changed easily and frequently to minimise the risk of contamination spread.
- Single-use wipes for counters: This is useful and limits contamination spread, but their usage needs to be balanced against environmental concerns compared to using lasting, reusable microfibre cloths, or cleaning tools.
- Unhygienically designed squeegees: As explained in the webinar, these could be carriers of contamination. Additionally, hygienically designed cleaning and food handling tools are quicker and easier to clean after use. For more information about hygienically designed cleaning and food handling tools, please see https://viewer.ipaper.io/vikan/food-safety-information/ultra-hygiene/ultra-hygiene-advertorial-en-300/
- Use of scouring pads: We would not recommend their use on food contact surfaces unless there is no other alternative for cleaning. Read our blog article: The use of sponges and scourers for cleaning - Vikan
- Poor tool management: Taped-up broken handles, worn out bristles, and damaged brush blocks are all issues we commonly encounter in addition to improper tool cleaning and management. Badly worn, damaged, and dirty tools, if stored, may also become a source of pest infestation.
- Poor segregation of risk zones: Failure to segregate low-risk (shelf-stable products aisles) from high-risk zones (retail deli) may lead to cross-contamination of the ready-to-eat foods in the high-risk area.
Having high-quality cleaning and material handling tools pays over time, as more durable and well-made tools last longer and need to be replaced less frequently. Hygienically designed well-made tools can save you money by helping to prevent the spread of contaminants and reduce the chances of an expensive recall.
5. I know why colour-coding is a promising idea, and we would like to use it to separate tools by process type, but we have a lot of employee turnover, and I’m worried it will be too much for new employees to learn. Do you have any suggestions?
Colour-coding, when done properly, makes training new employees easier. Here are some of our favourite tips:
- Keep the colour-coded tool plan simple. Make it easy to follow, and consistently and frequently communicate it to team members.
- Use fully coloured tools. This is clearer and easier for staff. Colour is a universal language, but if tools are made up of a mixture of colours, e.g., a red handle with a yellow broom head, it can become confusing.
- Ensure proper employee education and training on how the colour-coded tool plan works. This is vital, as it creates a culture of food safety and cross-contamination prevention, while motivating employees and reducing turnover.
In our real-world experience with food retail chains, it is quite easy for team members to learn colour-coding. As an example, if employees understand that red-coloured tools are used in the deli section and are stored on a red wall bracket, and green tools are used in the bakery and are stored on a green wall bracket, there will be less of a chance that the tools will get mixed up, thus avoiding cross-contamination.
Vikan are here to help you with your food retail cleaning options. Please contact Cedric Reynier, Vikan Regional Sales Director, at email@example.com or Mette Rude Bjarnvig, Vikan Regional Sales Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions.
6. Was the ‘time lost in looking for tools’ calculations based on a typical-sized store outlet? How does this make a tool management program important to other retail stores?
A typical store may save around £930,000 per year just by implementing a colour-coded tool program with wall brackets stationed at the right place. The calculations are shown here: