From transporting and storing products to food prep and merchandising displays, food safety concerns touch every aspect of the supply chain.
Retailers are pursing a multitude of strategies to address food safety throughout the supply chain. Despite the different strategies there does seem to be common ground—most programs are going above and beyond the simple basics of setting up safe food handling practices, employee hygiene and work surface sanitation policies and procedures to prevent food borne illness.
Industry observers say the crux of food safety is about safeguarding shoppers’ trust, enhancing a retailer’s brand and protecting the foundation of their business. Ilham Kadri, president of Diversey, a division of Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Sealed Air Corp., says that the efforts being made are leading to a level of food safety never before seen.
Observers add that providing safe food and ingredient storage prior to the sale, as well as storage, maintenance and organization of prep equipment is key. “By focusing on this aspect of their business, retailers can improve efficiency, productivity and profits,” says Terry Kevett, marketing manager for Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based InterMetro Industries, owner of the Metro brand of shelving and a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Emerson.
Others say that the discussion about food safety is not complete without including transportation and distribution advancements. As backroom space continues to shrink, distribution centers (DCs) have become the logical place to build merchandising pallets and floor-ready displays to be delivered straight to store aisles and shelves. Trent Overholt, vice president of the Los Angeles-based Rehrig Pacific Co., says that aside from being practical, this also minimizes handling at the store and helps maintain the cold chain for cooler items.
Another food safety trend experts are watching closely is the ability and willingness of retailers to share accurate POS data, both with manufacturers and their own DCs, which can help increase safety as well. Observers say that this transparency is necessary if retailers and manufacturers are to work together to minimize excess inventory held in the backroom. With this space freed up, the increased footage also gives retailers the option of turning the backroom into a strategic distribution space.
“This would open up a multitude of possibilities for retailers,” says Overholt. “Stores can act as small regional DCs or as fulfillment centers, decreasing overall freight costs and increasing service levels to consumers.”
With vast amounts of product being shipped from DCs to individual stores, knowing how a load is faring during transit is crucial. Sealed Air offers temperature monitoring solutions designed to trace the temperature profile of sensitive products during distribution. Information gathered here can be used to verify supply chain integrity and to ensure products maintain freshness during distribution.
“By combining the latest RFID, bar code and Internet technologies to seamlessly track the location and condition of the products, retailers can reduce the incidence of food poisoning and food waste and increase food access,” says Ron Cotterman, vice president of sustainability for Sealed Air.
Within the store, Sealed Air’s Cryovac division offers pouch solutions for products used in deli and bakery operations such as sauces, wet salads, condiments and icings. These replace tubs and cans for both storage efficiency and food safety enhancement. By providing hermetically sealed pouches, products are opened and used as needed. “We are protecting and enhancing the food and beverage supply chain by ensuring food and beverages are processed, sold and prepared in a safe and efficient environment, extending product shelf life and reducing waste,” says Cotterman.
When it comes to waste and sanitation, minimizing the chance for operator error and helping to ensure that concentrated solutions are not mistakenly mixed or improperly used is critical and yet can be a challenge. Diversey’s SafeKey program was created as a total safety solution package to address those needs and help retailers achieve greater consistency and compliance with less risk while reducing environmental impact.
Rehrig Pacific works closely with grocery retailers and direct-store-delivery manufacturers to offer intelligent, reusable RFID or GPS-enabled retail pallets and platforms that can be used from the DC to the store where they are often utilized as a display base. “Our reusable packaging enables reduced handling, increased on-shelf availability and merchandising capabilities, plus saves companies in handling and freight fees,” says Overholt.
Rehrig Pacific can also provide cell phone scanning and out-of-stock sensors that give retailers real-time data on product availability. The objective is to help grocers keep fewer products in the backroom and more on the floor, says Overholt.
Metro recently launched Super Erecta Pro—a line of shelving products designed specifically with food safety in mind. Features include easily cleanable, lift-off, polymer shelf mats that are sized to fit a standard sink or commercial washer. All system touch points are infused with Microban, an antimicrobial material. “The goal is to help retailers and their staff keep the shelving cleaner between cleanings,” says Kevett.
Identifying areas of the store that can help improve food safety can be challenging, so officials at Metro offer a free storage and efficiency optimization analysis. Among other things, a space-planning specialist reviews a retailer’s current operation and provides detailed recommendations to improve productivity, food safety and profits. Analysis includes interviews with store level management and associates, as well as photo documentation of improvement opportunities, says Kevett.
One of the most critical aspects of food safety lies in the transportation of product. Increasingly, companies are turning to fleet management technology to aid in maintaining food safety standards. From keeping track of temperature stats, humidity or the number of times the trailer door has been opened, trailer-tracking technology can deliver data to the driver and the back office.
Omnitracs, a Qualcomm company based in San Diego, provides fleet management solutions for private and for-hire fleets. Its trailer-tracking products work as a stand-alone product or can be combined with its mobile communications system. Company officials say that this feature is distinctive because data can be collected on both the trailer and the tractor. Since the carrier usually bares responsibility for refrigerated cargo, officials say this feature is particularly useful when carriers use trailers belonging to the shipper because it allows the shipper to track the trailer—despite the fact that another company’s tractor is pulling the trailer.
“The ability to show the chain of custody and document the appropriate temperatures were maintained during shipment is critical for today’s back room operations,” says Monica Wyly, director of marketing for Omnitracs.
Monitoring temperature remotely also allows retailers to catch an issue before it escalates, or if a food safety recall were to happen, gives them the ability to document the temperature history.
“Failure to maintain temperature not only can lead to food safety concerns, depending on what commodity is being hauled, spoilage issues can result in tens of thousands of dollars or more in losses,” says Wyly. Another key component to controlling food safety issues during transport is tampering controls—beyond the use of trailer seals. “Determined thieves can find a way around traditional seals,” she says. “With today’s technology, retailers can keep track each time a trailer door is opened and closed.” She adds that the monitoring systems Omnitrac uses are solar powered meaning the tracking devices will always stay powered.
Nearly 25 years ago, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) developed the M.U.S.T. (Management Uniform Sanitation Training) program to help the grocery industry communicate the importance of food safety. The program teaches the acronym C-A-S-H as a mnemonic device to help store associates remember the four key messages to maintaining food safety—Climate, Avoidance, Sanitation and Hygiene.
Clearly, controlling the temperature of the food during the time it is in the store plays a key role in the safety of the product. Once in store, avoiding situations that will render food unwholesome should be a priority for the retailer. Eliminating harmful bacteria through proper sanitation practices is essential to ensure that potentially harmful products do not reach the consumer. In addition, the hygiene of the food handlers must be controlled to minimize the opportunity for contamination.
Running a successful program
Diversey’s Kadri says supermarket operators have become extremely disciplined when it comes to addressing food safety, understanding that training and auditing are key elements to control the success of their food safety program. To accomplish this success, retailers are willingly partnering with outside experts to help them design, implement and track their programs. “In our view, retailers that appreciate the value of their business and their brands have thorough food safety programs in place,” says Kadri.
Observers say the biggest challenges in attaining food safety for retailers are related to people training and motivation. “Retailers have the knowledge and the technology to increase the level of food safety to levels never seen before,” says Kadri. “They understand that their success depends on their capacity to create a culture of excellence in their food safety teams, from the truck driver all the way to the cashier. Everyone plays a key role.”
While the industry has come a long way in minimizing end-to-end food safety concerns, some observers say there is continued opportunity to improve the “Climate” leg of C-A-S-H. To help address this, companies such as Rehrig Pacific are deploying reusable, intelligent packaging to decrease temperature ranges that encourage bacterial growth.
Overholt says the right packaging can ensure a tight cold chain, as well as aid in cooling or venting. Additionally, technology like Rehrig Pacific’s temperature tracking enables retailers to monitor temperature variation at the pallet level.
A Slice of clean
Cleaning and sanitizing may be one of the most important components of a quality sanitation program. While it is critical that proper procedures and parameters are in place, time spent on a task is also vital, say industry observers. That can be particularly true in regard to food-product contact surfaces involving equipment and utensils as well as non-equipment areas such as shields, walls, refrigeration units and anything else that may impact food safety.
Observers say store personnel must understand what the optimal cleaning rate is—at least daily and even more frequently, if necessary. And they need to have a clear idea of the type of cleaning required. It is also important that cleaning/sanitizing procedures be continuously monitored to evaluate long-term compliance.
However, sometimes no matter how well a job was done, the chance for food borne illness still remains. Looking to address this, last autumn the government introduced sanitation regulations regarding how certain types of in-store equipment, including deli slicers, are made. New units must now feature improved sanitation and cleaning features. For example, Hobart’s new HS Series heavy-duty slicer meets these new NSF 8 guidelines with sealed seams, compliant fasteners and removable parts for easy cleaning, which can contribute to improvement in food safety performance, say Hobart officials.
Officials add that the patented, removable ring-guard cover prevents debris build-up on cutting surfaces and the exclusive tilting, removable carriage system allows for thorough cleaning and improved sanitation. The HS Series also offers the option of a removable knife and carrier tool that can be put into the dishwasher.
“We know that food safety is a top priority for our grocery customers so we designed the Hobart HS Series heavy-duty slicer to be easier to clean, which can help our customers meet their deli sanitation goals,” says Duane Shomler, product manager for Hobart Slicers, part of the ITW Food Equipment Group, based in Troy, Ohio.
Balancing the need for enhanced productivity with safety, the Globe Food Equipment Co. has redesigned its deli slicers to include a number of new features. Globe’s slicer base is formed from rolled stainless steel and not a casted material that can contain pits and voids that harbor food bacteria and make them difficult to effectively sanitize, says Kevin Woods, vice president of sales and marketing for the Dayton, Ohio-based company. He adds that the slicer’s seals were also improved by gasketing against water and debris that can trap moisture, improved liquid and debris diversion from all control surfaces and creating a removable sharpener that is BPA-free, immersible and dishwasher safe to meet the highest hygiene standards.