SALISBURY, N.C. -- Sanitation practices at Food Lion here were given a glowing review in a report issued after an evaluation of the chain's food-safety program by the Food and Drug Administration and retail food specialists from six Southeast states The favorable report stands in stark contrast to the harsh criticisms leveled against Food Lion in a "PrimeTime Live" broadcast in November 1992, a report that many observers consider to be at least the partial cause of a sharp and sustained reduction in the chain's same-store sales that occurred at that time.
"All of us at Food Lion have dedicated ourselves to providing our customers with the cleanest, best-maintained stores in the industry," Tom E. Smith, Food Lion chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "It's gratifying to learn that our efforts have been recognized by the FDA."
The newly issued report on Food Lion evaluated practices at 63 Food Lion stores, ranking departments on the basis of 100 possible rating points.
Meat departments in stores evaluated averaged 95.43; the delis averaged 92.9, and all other sections of the store (grocery, produce, frozen food and backroom storage areas) averaged 92.6, according to the report. "Any level of 90 is excellent and is an indication of excellent consumer protection," J. Carroll Sellers, senior retail food specialist for FDA's Southeast region, wrote in the evaluation report.
"Public health officials will be highly pleased to know that no food temperature violations were found in any of the 63 meat departments, only six in the grocery departments, and only seven in the deli departments.
"The recommendation is, continue the attention to the principles of food safety which yielded the results found by the 25 skilled inspectors and which resulted in above-average ratings for each of the three areas covered."
The study was conducted between August 1993 and March 1994 by the certified retail food evaluation officers in FDA's Southeast region and retail food specialists from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Of the 63 stores evaluated, 15 were in North Carolina, 15 in Virginia, 11 in South Carolina, 11 in Florida, seven in Tennessee and four in Georgia.
The evaluation of Food Lion followed a critical report on ABC-TV's "PrimeTime Live."
At about the time the broadcast aired, a conference of federal and state sanitation inspectors was taking place in Asheville, N.C. "This show was fresh on the minds of several state and federal officials who were present at this meeting," Sellers wrote in the report.
"Knowing that FDA's Southeast region and the [six regional] states were assigned two retail food chain evaluations to do in fiscal year 1993, these people said, 'Why don't we do Food Lion as one of our evaluations?' "
Food Lion met most of the criteria by which FDA selects companies to evaluate, Sellers noted, except that it did not have a below-average inspection history.