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Addressing Increased Consumer Focus on Safety and Freshness

Doug Thurston | Vice President of Sales

Cold Chain-Digital Solutions at Emerson

Half of all U.S. consumers worry about the safety of fresh and frozen foods during transportation to stores. That’s the big discovery from a recent Emerson study.[i] Half of consumers also decide where to shop based on the quality and freshness of their foods.

  • 62% agree better technology has a role to play in keeping their food safe to eat.
  • 56% say better data is needed to track proper food safety practices from farm to table.
  • 51% are less likely to shop from stores that aren’t using — nor having suppliers use — the latest technologies available to keep their food safe.

That’s a wake-up call for food retailers who have not yet made ensuring food quality and safety among their top priorities. Across the United States, grocery stores and supermarkets play vital roles in food production and the supply chain. They’re uniquely positioned to coordinate an interdisciplinary focus on cold chain management, from supplier partners to monitoring shipping logistics.

Starting point: Establish proper temperatures

Effective management of the retail food cold chain often begins with ensuring proper harvesting times in consultation with preferred produce providers and establishing the temperature setpoints for each commodity type.

Respiration rates of harvested produce can be impacted by the setpoints; produce cooling processes can also place excess strain on food products. For example:

  • Pulling heat from products picked in 90 °F heat down to a 33 °F transport temperature is not ideal.
  • The goal should be to limit the variance between picked and storage temperatures.

This is also why it’s extremely important to be able to monitor temperatures in produce pre-cooling sheds.

The age of harvest fields is another consideration. Late-season fields experience excess crop strain; thus, extra efforts must be taken to reduce these impacts after harvest.

Ensuring food safety compliance

Food retailers already are shifting to more proactive prevention in order to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This federal law gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to mandate comprehensive, science-based and preventative controls governing the safe storage, handling and preparation of food throughout the supply chain.

Grocers can take additional steps to help ensure compliance, such as:

  • Establishing a corporate food safety specialist and placing quality control (QC) experts in distribution centers (DCs) and/or logistics operations
  • Investing in technologies that enable the continuous collection of data related to food safety and providing the necessary documentation to validate these initiatives on request

Keeping up with e-commerce fulfillment

Not only did COVID-19 permanently reshape consumers’ buying habits, retailers’ responses to new consumer behaviors also introduced food safety challenges. Chief among them are:

  • Chilled fresh and frozen goods for click-and-collect fulfillment must be kept within their optimal temperature ranges throughout in-store picking, order staging and customer pickup.
  • Direct-to-consumer deliveries have the added responsibility of maintaining temperatures in delivery vehicles.

In both new fulfillment models, grocers must make extra efforts to mitigate improper handling or cross-contamination risks.

What’s next: Steps to enhance safety and quality

Meeting these new customer expectations can require additional effort and investment. This is not a time to bend food safety rules or skip best practices to save money. Cutting costs almost always backfires by creating shrink and introducing potential safety risks.

Instead, grocery retailers can take steps to help ensure better food safety and quality. Start by establishing a temperature-monitoring program. Maintaining tight temperature setpoint control for all types of fresh and frozen commodities is a key factor in preserving freshness and enhancing safety.

Retailers also should plan for any scenario that can occur during fresh and frozen food’s journey from farm to fork. Without that planning — and coordination by retailers with their food providers and shippers — the likelihood of shrink and food safety risks will only increase.

 

[i] Emerson, “Emerson Survey: New Food Safety Technologies Rising in Importance for Consumers,” December 1, 2020, https://www.emerson.com/en-us/news/corporate/food-safety-survey-2020 (accessed May 17, 2021).

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