Safe and Sound

Food-safety advice from two leading retailers.

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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Foodservice promises a lot tothe c-store operator: strongmargins, brand differentiation,increased traffic and—considerably lessappealing—increased liability related tothe health and safety of customers.

One in six people will fall sick from afoodborne illness this year. An unhappystomach, maybe an afternoon stuck inbed—that’s a setback for sure. But 3,000of those people will actually die.

Like foodservice itself, food safetyrequires a champion within a companyto own the process. For Atlanta-basedRaceTrac Petroleum, that person isJustin Waldrep, manager of food safetyand quality assurance. Waldrep not onlyleads food-safety protocol at the 657-store chain, but he also leads educationfor other retailers at industry events,including CSP’s Convenience RetailingUniversity and The NACS Show.

What drives RaceTrac’s superiorfood-safety system? “The key to anyfood-safety program is to reinforce goodfood-safety behaviors with public praiseso other team members can see what isdone correctly,” says Waldrep. “Anotherkey component is that we want to makesure our leaders are comfortable withtheir food-safety training so they cancoach and correct any improper foodsafetybehaviors.”

Know the Law, Your Partners

Well before positive staff reinforcementor leadership training, food safety beginswith knowing the laws. It all starts withthe Food Code, which is created by theU.S. Food & Drug Administration as aminimum food-safety standard. States,counties and cities do not need to adhereto the most recent code. Because of this,food safety is a patchwork of regulationsacross states, counties and cities withno uniform set of laws. This leads toparticularly challenging protocol forcompanies doing business in multiplestates.

Take the case of the regulationsaround certified food protection managers(CFPM) and RaceTrac. In Texas,the chain is required to have a CFPMon site around the clock, “which basicallymeans that all of our employeeswith ‘manager’ in their title need to becertified,” thereby increasing operationalcosts, Waldrep says.

“In our other markets (Georgia, Florida,Louisiana and Mississippi),” he continues,“we currently need one personcertified as a CFPM, and then you candesignate a knowledgeable employee onother shifts to be the ‘person in charge.’” Similar disparities in laws are foundacross the food-safety landscape.

Once you know the laws, considerhow you will hold your suppliers anddistributors accountable. Waldreprecommends establishing a separateprotocol for each of the following: foodproducers and vendors, transportationproviders and distribution centers.

For food producers and vendors, createa questionnaire as a way of analyzingtheir food-safety program, and ensurethey have been audited by a third party.Inspect the facilities yourself and set upannual reviews to make certain they areexecuting their programs correctly.

Distribution centers and transportationproviders should also undergothird-party auditing, driver training andannual reviews. Waldrep recommendsinspecting facilities and vehicles andperforming spot checks at unanticipatedtimes to ensure food is coming intothe stores at proper temperatures. Fordistribution centers, review the firm’semployee food safety training, pestcontrolprocedures and HACCP plans.

In-Store Safety

Once the food item is inside the store,retailers should create protocol for foodstorage, handling and display/holding.Bob Gumatz, manager of retail solutionsfor CHS Inc., Cenex, Inver GroveHeights, Minn., recommends breakingdown in-store food safety protocol tothe following categories:

  • Storing
  • Preparing
  • Cooking
  • Holding
  • Cooling
  • Reheating
  • Serving

Gumatz recommends further dividingthe menu into three categories:simple items that require no cookingand essentially need to be tracked forproper storage and holding protocol;products that are cooked and held, andthen thrown away at the end of the day;and “complex” items that are made,cooled down and reheated at a later datefor service.

After a good look at how your menufalls into these categories, says Gumatz, you may decide tosimplify your menu options. If you’re not prepared to committo advanced food-safety procedures, look to precookedproducts with minimal employee handling.

Foodservice equipment must also be safe: Ensure equipmentis NSF-certified for commercial use vs. home use.

Of course, employee hygiene—or lack thereof—is a majorcontributor to foodborne illnesses. Ensure your team membersfollow proper protocol for hair restraints, proper handwashing, bandaging wounds, wearing gloves and clean uniformsand aprons, and reporting illnesses.

When it comes to sanitation, list all the customer touchpoints in stores, such as door handles, creamers and coffeespigots. This process provides the retailer with a list of all thespots that need to be sanitized on a regular basis. Use onlychemicals that are safe for foodservice, have test strips on handfor testing sanitizer and fix leaks quickly, because pathogenslove standing water.

Check Yourself

Like the lack of a champion, other food-safety weaknesses cancome from within the company culture. CHS owns and operatesapproximately 70 branded c-stores and provides support programsfor another 1,000 c-stores. The company offers food safety training,Servsafe and HACCP workshops to its branded network andanyone else in the foodservice industry.

Through the streamlining of protocol for CHS and the otheroperators they train, Gumatz discovered some truths abouteffective food safety. For one, commitment has to come from thetop, including ownership, senior management and store-levelmanagement. He also found that while large companies aremore likely to have the financial and labor resources in place toproperly execute food safety, smaller companies are at a greaterrisk. They often lack the money and manpower to provide aconsistently safe environment.

To ensure your company is on par with food-safety standards,create a self-inspection program. Gumatz advises retailersto “be harder on yourself than your inspector, discuss your ownviolations with your staff, and revise your standard operatingprocedures to reduce violations.”

Waldrep agrees on the importance of internal audits. “Performa food-safety audit on a routine basis where the teamconfirms that their food-holding equipment is keeping food atthe proper temperatures, and that good food-safety behaviorsare being followed by the employees,” he says.“If you don’t measure it, you can’t track it.”


Food-Safety Checklist

Here’s a starting point for building your food-safety protocol:

Suppliers/Manufacturers

  • Require third-party audits and supplier approval processes.
  • Inspect the facilities.
  • Set up annual reviews.
  • Including packaging vendors in protocol as well.

Transportation Providers

  • Obtain the latest third-party audit and review the firm’s standard operating procedures.
  • Ensure drivers are trained on food safety.
  • Inspect facilities and vehicles and perform unanticipated spot checks.
  • Set up annual reviews.

Distribution Centers

  • Obtain a third-party inspection.
  • Conduct on-site inspections of facilities and vehicles.
  • Review employee food-safety training, HACCP plan and pest-control procedures.

Upon Delivery

  • Check for damaged packaging and pest infestation.
  • Check food is at the proper temperature.
  • Keep chemicals away from food items.

In-Store Storage

  • Store all items at least 6 inches off the floor.
  • Rotate items based on first in, first out (FIFO) procedures.
  • Label all foods with receiving and expiration dates.

Preparing Food

  • Constantly monitor and track temperatures, from the cooking process through holding.
  • Hot foods should be held at 135 degrees Fahrenheit (check local code).
  • Cold foods should be held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (check local code).

Displaying Food

  • Clean and sanitize food surfaces at least every 4 hours (more often if needed).
  • Replace tongs every four hours, or more often if dropped or handled incorrectly.

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