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By Mehgan Belanger
NEW YORK -- No discussion of foodservice at convenience stores -- especially fresh food -- would be complete without an examination of the issues surrounding food safety.
Sophisticated food safety safeguards are necessary for any c-store foodservice program, according to the group of best-of-class convenience store retailers who gathered at Convenience Store News' 2009 Foodservice Roundtable last month.
"This trade channel is where food-borne illness is growing the fastest," said Melina Hall, senior foodservice category manager for Kentucky-based Thorntons Inc., quoting one food safety vendor. She said the reasoning for this is the large number of convenience store operators who are jumping into the fresh foods business to offset declining margins and sales in other in-store categories, particularly tobacco.
But according to the retailers, making sure stores and employees are food-safe is not enough, especially in the wake of the massive peanut recall by Peanut Corp. of America, where manufacturers shouldered the blame for not inspecting their suppliers.
One solution to ensuring food safety is to implement a certification program for vendors. LaCrosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip uses such a program, and every new vendor must become certified by the retailer's quality assurance team before any new product enters the stores, said Paul Servais, the chain's foodservice zone leader.
To address its stores' food safety, 12 Kwik Trip Foodservice District Leaders visit sites to ensure food products are safe, he said. This team monitors food in the "red zone," or the front of the store, by taking product temperatures and monitoring the kitchens. The chain also installed hand sanitizers at its pumps and in the foodservice sections.
At Quick Chek, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., all foodservice management must attend a food safety certification program. Every person in management from the senior vice president to the directors, all district leaders and store leaders also must be certified.
The company has outside sanitation experts who inspect all of the stores quarterly to ensure strict standards are met and maintained. An online document is sent to all management to show results. Critical issues are corrected within 24 hours, according to Jerry Hayes, director of operations, who also advised his fellow roundtable attendees to "create a record of all you do to protect your business" from food-borne illness, so in the case of an outbreak, these efforts will be noted.
Hayes also recommended establishing a food-borne illness emergency plan, so recall notifications are sent out in a timely and urgent manner, and stores respond accordingly with a record kept of those responses.
The 2009 CSNews Foodservice Roundtable was sponsored by Boyd Coffee Co., Eby-Brown and Merisant Co. Full coverage of the roundtable appears in the April 20, issue of CSNews.