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LAS VEGAS -- Customers have high expectations today about food safety, Dr. Nancy Caldarola, education director of NACS Café, noted at the NACS Show educational session entitled "Food Safety on the Line."
With so many convenience stores expanding their foodservice business, operators must be aware that consumers are a lot smarter at all ages than in the past, noted Caldarola, who moderated the session that featured guest speakers Justin Waldrep, food safety manager for RaceTrac Petroleum Corp., and Keith Rowland, corporate account manager, c-stores and OEM, at Ecolab-Kay Chemical.
Caldarola pointed out that c-stores must also deal with constantly changing state and local food codes, varied requirements for certified food safety managers, and the "still in limbo" federal menu labeling regulations that were due to go into effect Oct. 1, but are not likely to see any action until after the November presidential election.
Waldrep, who supervises food quality and safety at RaceTrac's more than 330 stores, told audience members to keep an eye on an alternative food labeling bill called the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. It's a bipartisan bill that is supported by NACS and would stipulate that a c-store would only have to comply with the new, stricter food labeling regulations (when they are eventually announced) if more than half of its sales are derived from foodservice.
In addition, packaged food not assembled or made at the store would be excluded from the labeling requirements. Again, though, don't expect any action on this proposed bill until after the election.
First and foremost, the goal of food safety is to "protect your brand," according to Waldrep. He advised retailers do the following:
- Know your food supply chain. Have an approval process for ingredient supplies; inspect their facilities as well as the facilities of packaging vendors; get the latest third-party audits on those suppliers; and set up annual reviews.
- Know your transportation provider. Maintain the cold chain and use GPS tracking if you can. Also, get the latest third-party audits, set up annual reviews and do random spot checks.
- Know your distribution center. Here you should have third-party inspections as well as your own inspection. Review your HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Plan) and set up annual reviews and audits.
Inside the store, a critical part of any food safety program is good personal hygiene, Waldrep added. This includes prompt illness reporting by employees, proper hair restraint, proper hand washing, wearing gloves, bandaging wounds and clean uniforms and apron.
Safety checking also extends to when the store is receiving food items, as well as cooking and holding prepared foods.
Rowland of Ecolab discussed the many challenges to food safety that arise out of poor sanitation. The thing to remember, he said, is "if you do it wrong, you could hurt somebody."
Among the trouble areas Rowland discussed were pest control, equipment and vehicle repair, cross contamination and proper labeling of allergy information.
He also noted that retailers have to deal with the inconsistent forms and information collected in Health Department inspections across the United States. "There are over 3,000 jurisdictions and inconsistent FDA food code adoption across the U.S.," Rowland said. "A retailer that operates in several states has no way to view common problems and violations across the entire chain of stores."
Rowland's solution is an electronic database that searches through all the public health department records and produces a single health and sanitation report for an entire chain of stores. This system can report violations, point out common problems and even send out alerts to the appropriate company executives.