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Creating a Fresh Food Safety Culture

Grocers are tasked with modernizing their approach to safety in the perimeter
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Creating a Fresh Food Safety Culture
Without a digital food safety solution, fresh fruits and vegetables have the potential to be contaminated throughout the supply chain with harmful germs that can cause shoppers to get sick.

With the potential for fresh fruits and vegetables to be contaminated with harmful germs anywhere in the supply chain, and for pathogenic bacteria to grow on fresh meats due to improper storage temperatures, it’s no wonder that many consumers have likely experienced a food safety issue. A recent “DEEP Study on Food Safety” from Sensormatic Solutions by Johnson Controls and Progressive Grocer found that 56% of the 1,000-plus grocery shoppers surveyed had experienced a food safety issue in the past. More than one in four (28%) experienced an issue in the past year alone. This highlights the widespread issue of grocers needing to create a better food safety culture by accelerating efforts to digitize fresh management.  

[For more info on the Sensormatic's food safety study, CLICK HERE to view "Consumer Expectations for the Future of Food Health & Safety" on-demand webinar.]

Smarter Food Safety 

Digital tools help grocers enforce safety standards, reduce risk, and protect a store’s brand by optimizing and improving safety and quality protocols, and shoppers agree. According to Sensormatic’s survey, 57% of respondents say that having automated “smart system” temperature controls would be a helpful step taken by grocery stores to ensure food safety, while 49% say that having a comprehensive digital food safety solution would be helpful.  

“Tech tools provide essential data, allowing store owners and managers to spot trends, including areas of noncompliance, to mitigate risks,” says CJ Pakeltis, account manager at Salt Lake City-based RizePoint, a quality management software provider. “Data provides key insights across the organization and/or drilled down to individual stores.”

Tech solutions also help boost transparency. 

“Historically, food businesses conducted safety protocols ‘behind the scenes,’ but since COVID, there’s been an increased demand for transparency,” notes Pakeltis. “Key audiences expect to see safety protocols being implemented correctly and consistently. Even if customers order their groceries to go, they want to see ‘proof’ of safe food practices, such as cold food being transported in coolers, raw proteins being separated from ready-to-eat foods, and high-quality items arriving at their doorstep.”

Being able to safely monitor compliance is especially essential as current conditions dictate that many stores operate with limited staff who are often stretched too thin. 

Sensormatic is helping grocers comply with safety standards. In early March, the Swiss retail solutions provider added the PENN Connected Digital Food Safety System to its Sensormatic IQ intelligent operating platform. PENN Connected helps manage data monitoring, recording and reporting to help ensure that food is stored, prepared and consumed safely. Adding it to Sensormatic IQ platform capabilities helps improve operational efficiency through remote refrigeration monitoring. The digital food safety solution helps retailers with compliance by monitoring product storing temperatures, both hot and cold, via remote monitoring. Through prompt alerts, retailers can intervene early if a temperature issue arises. 

Midwest grocer Coborn’s recently expanded its collaboration with Mississauga, Ontario-based Invafresh to optimize fresh food operations throughout its banners. The St. Cloud, Minn.-based grocery chain deployed the tech company’s fresh food retail platform for its merchandising and replenishment solutions.

Coburn’s made the move in light of pressures and complexities in managing fresh food operations and staying compliant with food safety. A food traceability solution allows Coborn’s to adhere to U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for ground beef recordkeeping. Robust fresh food traceability capabilities identify problems faster, therefore reducing recalls at retail and lowering liability in case of food safety issues.

Meanwhile, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. implemented the Procurant One technology platform from Watsonville, Calif.-based Procurant across all of its retail banners for purchasing and order management in the produce department. A cloud-based buying application, the Procurant One system connects all suppliers and stakeholders across Albertsons’ supply chain for perishable foods, giving its buyers more visibility and insight when placing orders and allowing automated fulfillment of routine orders. All participants across the supply chain get better information, faster issue resolution, easier collaboration, and a practical foundation for improved food safety and traceability.

Creating a Fresh Food Safety Culture
Incorporating robust fresh food traceability capabilities can identify problems faster, therefore reducing recalls at retail and lowering liability in case of food safety issues.

Building Confidence in E-Commerce

Because of the increased number of consumers ordering their foods online, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a summit last fall centered on food safety in e-commerce. The FDA is currently working to identify courses of action to address potential food safety vulnerabilities, including those that may arise in the “last mile” of delivery.

One of the potential vulnerabilities in e-commerce is temperature monitoring. According to a recent North Carolina State University study, the majority of meal kits delivered to consumers contain one or more perishable food items that have been exposed to temperatures above the 40-degree Fahrenheit safety zone that impedes the growth of harmful bacteria.  

Researchers evaluated 72 deliveries of identical menu items from 12 leading companies that deliver meal kits, ready-to-eat meals or perishable foods via a delivery service such as FedEx.

Key findings include:

  • More than 76% of the 72 boxes delivered included at least one product above the 40-degree F food safety zone.
  • Nearly 42% of the companies had all deliveries above 40 degrees F.
  • 50% of the companies shipped boxes with at least one meat or poultry product above 40 degrees F. Nearly 17% of those companies had all deliveries over 40 degrees F.
  • More than 58% of the 12 companies shipped boxes with at least one fruit or vegetable product above 40 degrees F. 
  • Of those companies, more than 41% had all packages arrive over 40 degrees F. 

The report indicates that meal kit companies and grocers that deliver need to more accurately track and measure temperatures throughout the product journey.

“While the popularity of home-delivered foods and meal kits is still increasing, few details are known about the journey of these packaged foods from when they leave the vendor to when the foods are delivered and prepared in consumer homes. Gaining a better understanding of the journey of these packaged foods would identify opportunities for providing safer, more wholesome foods to consumers and higher customer satisfaction,” says Joseph Battoe, CEO of Chicago-based Varcode, which provides technology that monitors meal kits and other temperature-sensitive products throughout the cold chain. 

Battoe adds that, beyond temperatures at the time of delivery, companies also need to determine how long a perishable food item was at a specific temperature. 

“If a chicken cutlet, for example, registered at 50 degrees Fahrenheit when delivered, we need to know how long it was above the recommended 40-degree safe zone,” he says. “Knowing whether it was for 10 minutes or more than four hours is important for determining food safety.”

The study also confirmed that transit times are a major factor in product safety. Deliveries with a total travel time of 20 hours or less had the lowest average box temperatures, while those with transit times of 40 hours or more had the highest average box temperatures.  

Varcode recently introduced Smart Label technology that provides end-to-end monitoring and reporting of meal kit temperatures. It enables consumers to scan their meal kits with any smartphone and instantly confirm that their meals are safe and fresh. Varcode also provides companies with food safety data to improve their operations.  

Types of packaging coolants also significantly affect fresh food safety. A new solution for shipping perishables was recently introduced by Islandia, N.Y.-based Minus Works. As a sustainable alternative to the freezer brick, the new Plant-Based, Leak-Proof Gel Packs feature a biodegradable plant-based gel that is semisolid and won’t leak or flow if the containment film is broken or punctured. The gel is a 32-degree F refrigerant, ideal for protecting perishables at refrigerated temperature ranges. Applications include meal kits, online grocery and specialty food delivery.

The safety of fresh food delivery is on FDA’s radar; therefore, it needs to be on the radar of food retailers as well. 

  • Innovating the Salad Bar With Safety In Mind

    In December 2021, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. partnered with a Swedish food tech company to ensure safe fresh meal solutions. Albertsons debuted Picadeli’s high-tech salad bars in six Safeway, Acme and Kings locations across Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and New Jersey.

    Picadeli’s modular store-within-a-store salad bar concept prioritizes food safety, with the design comprising hygiene-first materials, technology-enabled shielding hoods, and automatic hand sanitizer and bowl dispensers. The mounting system for utensils ensures that the grip is never in contact with food and that products aren’t mixed to avoid cross contamination. Its digital management system allows for full traceability of its supply chain and operation, as well as QR code scanning to ensure that products don’t stay out longer than safely allowed, signaling the need for refilling and artificial-intelligence reordering. 

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