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Supermarket Food Safety: Trends and Risk Factors

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Ensuring food safety throughout the food retail supply chain has taken on new importance in 2020. As COVID-19 pushed many grocery shoppers online and reshaped consumer buying habits, grocers had to quickly adapt to new demands without compromising food safety and quality. In a recent article in PerishableNews.com, we explore the impacts of these rapidly changing market dynamics and discuss Emerson’s commitment to helping retailers and supply chain stakeholders preserve food quality and safety. In the first of a two-blog series, we will examine the evolving food retail landscape and explore food safety best practices at various steps along food’s cold chain journey.

With the onset of the global health crisis, retailers were suddenly inundated with click-and-collect orders and home deliveries. This unexpected high order volume not only placed pressures on e-fulfillment infrastructures, but also required renewed adherence to food safety best practices. Grocers not only had to maintain proper temperature ranges during storage, picking, staging and delivery, but also follow proper sanitation and hygiene protocols for in-store customers and employees alike.

At the same time, grocers began playing an even larger foodservice role by providing ready-to-eat, home meal replacements while still supporting deli- and freshly prepared offerings. Combined, these new challenges only highlighted pre-existing supply chain concerns and underscored the importance of maintaining food safety at every point of its journey to consumers. Consider the dynamic mix of food retail market and consumer trends impacting supermarket food safety in 2020:

Understanding food safety risk factors

Food safety is a cumulative process involving multiple stakeholders. From harvest to production, shipping and cold storage, order fulfillment and delivery, food preparation and handling, grocery retailers rely on food safety best practices across a wide range of disciplines.

Food shipments can proceed through up to 30 individual steps and have multiple changes of ownership, custody and control before they reach supermarkets. Once there, this chain of custody now includes the complexities of click-and-collect fulfillment — from picking processes and staging through customer pick-up. Throughout these processes, multiple factors can either decrease perishable food’s shelf life or increase its risk of becoming unsafe and a potential cause of foodborne illness.

An unbroken chain of temperature certainty and safe handling practices is essential for maintaining food safety. Common risk factors include:

  • Safe handling practices must guard against the spread of bacterial pathogens that can cause food poisoning, such as E. coli and listeria. Cross-contamination, poor employee hygiene, and unsafe or unsanitary processing or food preparation methods are key contributors.
  • Produce and perishable commodities must be kept within optimal temperatures to prevent the growth of bacteria, maximize freshness and shelf life, and avoid food waste and shrink. Environmental conditions within shipping containers must be monitored and managed throughout food’s journey to optimize humidity, ripening agents, security and real-time location tracking.
  • Online order fulfillment presents new challenges for maintaining temperature control. Chilled perishables and frozen goods must be kept within optimal temperature ranges, which can impact in-store picking processes and order staging prior to customer pick-up. Fluctuations in demand can also affect walk-in cooler performance due to changes in employee foot traffic and increased unit access.
  • Cook-and-hold procedures must maintain food at optimal holding temperatures. Per the U.S. National Restaurant Association’s (NRA’s) ServSafe® guidelines, this requires frequent checking and documentation of internal food temperatures to ensure food quality and safety.

Part two of this blog series will explore Emerson refrigeration and temperature monitoring solutions for helping ensure food safety throughout the cold chain and in supermarkets.

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