Food safety is a huge challenge facing grocerants, and it is “non-negotiable,” says Tom Ford, Vice President, Food Safety, Global Food Retail, Ecolab, Greensboro, NC.

Complexities arise because “grocerants play in two worlds. They put the best of a restaurant menu into a supermarket or convenience store,” he explains. “Retailers don’t know what customers will do – eat right away, take food to the car, finish at home that day, or reheat it days later. The food safety and quality has to sustain in every circumstance and also maximize shelf-life display time before it is even bought,” he explains.

To find this safe sweet spot between the typical grocer, c-store and restaurant environments, grocerant operators need a skillful blend of:

  • restaurant-quality foods;
  • state-of-the-art cleaning procedures and solutions;
  • and well-trained staff able to multitask in an open space where customers can see a lot. 

Grocerants with these elements in place can achieve higher levels of food safety and provide consistent taste and quality experiences – wherever and whenever customers decide to eat the food, adds Ford, who was a former food safety head at Harris Teeter. 

He shares some general tips with Food Service at Retail: Grocerants readers, based on his retail practices and Ecolab’s ongoing partnerships with restaurants and retail operators:

FOOD QUALITY

  • Consider and test new ingredient compositions for grocerant foods, because these have to be prepared differently to survive different time periods than in typical restaurant and grocery environments. For example, the texture and mouth feel of breads and cheeses vary when displayed in cold or hot stations vs. being eaten right away. “Recipes that work in a restaurant or grocery might not make the leap into a grocerant. You need the pillar of quality,” says Ford.


CLEANING

  • Grocerants are adding equipment they never had before, such as a nut grinder to make peanut butter, and a flour mill to grind flour. Both enhance a fresh and local image. They also require grocerants to learn to properly use and clean them to stay dry, and bug-, dust- and residue-free, to ensure food quality and safety. 
  • Chefs need to creatively extend capabilities of their grocerant grills, fryers, ovens and rotisseries, which may lack the capacities and specialty features of restaurant equipment. They should innovate with food safety, scalability and staff training in mind. Ecolab tests equipment to ensure it can be completely and efficiently cleaned and can work with manufacturers to help them adapt a design when necessary.
  • Efficient cleaning processes save water, energy and labor, the latter a growing concern with the rising minimum wage. A retailer saves 4.8 labor hours in each store deli per month, by using a leaner process and a single-step product to clean and sanitize floors and keep drains listeria-free, according to Ecolab research.


STAFF TRAINING, TASKING AND PERFORMING

  • Unlike in restaurants where jobs are specific, grocerant staffers tend to fill multiple roles; they prepare and assemble food, serve customers at the counter, and perform food safety and sanitation tasks. Therefore, managers must establish a culture where all tasks matter, staffers buy in, and can emphasize their individual strengths in support of the overall goal to provide safe, quality food.
  • Since staff churn is high at retail, new training and retraining is key to sustaining essential cleaning and food safety procedures and culture. 
  • Raley’s and Mariano’s are among chains that use Ecolab as a resource to visit each store monthly, retrain staff on the spot where issues exist (for example, hand washing, food temperatures), and feed staff performance metrics upstream.
  • Department managers that engage staffers daily also keep day-to-day operations pristine and spread their enthusiasm for food safety and quality and customer service.