How to Create a Stronger Food Safety Culture

NATIONAL REPORT — When retailers build a foodservice program, they are most likely to focus on the quality of menu items. However, the issue of food safety is also incredibly important, and food poisoning is a much bigger deal than people realize.

In the United States, 48 million people — or one in five Americans — are sickened by their food each year, according to a recent webinar, "Digitizing Food Safety Culture in the Modern Age," presented by Convenience Store News and ParTech Inc.

Addressing the issues behind foodborne illness is a challenge, as the problem is global but action begins with the individual, according to ParTech's John Sammon III, senior vice president and general manager, intelligent checklists.

How can food poisoning be prevented? "Essentially, it comes down to human behavior," Sammon said. This includes everyone involved at every stage of foodservice: production, distribution, preparation, holding, and finally the serving and selling of food.

Trends in the convenience store space that particularly affect the preparation, handling and storage of prepared food include mobile ordering, waste mitigation, and the increasing number of consumers who select their fuel provider based on the quality of items inside the store.

Rather than lean on code violations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act primarily calls for food retailers to have a safety plan, according to Sammon. If they don't, the consequences for the c-store industry as a whole include: damage to brands; narrower margins; pressure to focus on risk; additional regulatory oversight and authority; increased occurrences for recalls; lawsuits; and loss of consumer confidence.

Consumer confidence is particularly important because, according to Sammon, "Trust is like paper; once it is crumpled up, it can never be perfect again."

Even as the development of convenience foodservice brings increased chances for foodborne illnesses, developments in technology have made it easier to track aspects of the business that can help c-store operators keep their food offerings safe. For instance, smartphones are extremely mobile and have better capabilities than paper and clipboards. Apps and programs such as ParTech's SureCheck allow retailers to keep consistency across multiple locations, save time and labor, easily manage temperatures, track expirations, and more.

Ultimately, it is easy to capture data, but what retailers do with the data is what's really important.

"That is the information that drives a culture of food safety," Sammon said.

An on-demand replay of the webinar is available here.