- As an increasing number of consumers choose fully or partially prepared meals at the grocery store, which are handled by more people, Progressive Grocer notes staff training will be critical in helping prevent foodborne illnesses.
- Well-trained managers at the store level can help keep standards in place, Julie Heinrichs, product line manager for food machines at Troy, Ohio-based Hobart, told Progressive Grocer. For bigger grocery chains, Equipment manufacturers at larger grocery chains can provide on-site training, as well as training videos or YouTube links. Other helpful tips include placing reminders, cleaning schedules, checklists and visual instructions for disassembly near equipment.
- The article report notes that a final piece of the puzzle is consumer education, like the one offered by Arlington, Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute.
Salmonella in melons. Listeria found in broccoli. E. coli found in ground beef. Foodborne illnesses in the news seem rampant, underscoring the need for grocery stores and food manufacturers to recommit to food safety standards.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans are affected by a foodborne illness each year. With the growing popularity of hot bars, prepared foods, meal kits and — all more convenient but also all the more hands — it's easy to see a possible reason for its prevalence. The move away from processed food toward fresher produce is also a large factor, CNN reported, because they are often imported and sold directly without a step that would kill the germs. However, CNN noted that detection is easier today than ever before, so it's difficult to determine if the numbers are currently on the rise.
What is clear though is that grocers, manufacturers and suppliers must do more for prevention. Just this year, health officials from the CDC say a salmonella outbreak linked to watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and fresh-cut fruit medley products produced at the Illinois-based Caito Foods. In another episode, Giant Food Stores, with locations across Maryland,recalled frozen broccoli under its own label because it may have been contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. And just this week, Albertsons, Safeway, Pak ‘N Save and Vons stores in seven states said they were taking their own action after a recall of more than 12 1/2 tons of ground beef by Cargill Meat Solutions.
In these instances, the retailers made the smart move by jointly announcing recalls that allowed stores to control the problem before they became unmanageable. Other times, consumers are impacted. About 130 people were confirmed with salmonella infections in July, likely due to implicated pasta salad from Hy-Vee stores. The outbreak was confirmed in five states, and 18 of the victims had such severe symptoms that they were admitted to hospitals.
These outbreaks highlight the fact that although growers and processors continue to improve conditions on their end, consumers and retailers must be vigilant about the safety of fruits and vegetables. Today, grocers are able to address outbreaks at a rapid rate to limit the number of those who become ill. With access to social media and loyalty card data, retailers can reach thousands of shoppers instantly and directly.
As Progressive Grocer highlights, retailers can educate consumers on what products are or are not included in outbreaks. If pre-cut fruit, for example, is impacted, stores could offer whole melons that are safe. While foods becoming recalled across the U.S. make national headlines, the report highlights the most common way for contamination to spread is by in-store workers who incorrectly sanitize their hands, utensils or equipment as they handle food. These may cause smaller and less reported outbreaks, but the problems add up. And a small store with an outbreak might struggle to bounce back in an industry with razor-thin margins.