FIGHT BAC! EXPANDING FOCUS TO ASSOCIATES

CHICAGO -- In-store associates are the focus of a new industry initiative that seeks to boost compliance with retailers' existing food-safety programs."Fight BAC! It's Worth the Time" was unveiled during last week's FMI show after more than a year of development by the Food Marketing Institute Foundation and Porter-Novelli, the research and marketing firm.The initiative consists of four key points

CHICAGO -- In-store associates are the focus of a new industry initiative that seeks to boost compliance with retailers' existing food-safety programs.

"Fight BAC! It's Worth the Time" was unveiled during last week's FMI show after more than a year of development by the Food Marketing Institute Foundation and Porter-Novelli, the research and marketing firm.

The initiative consists of four key points related to associate-level food safety, delivered via 14 simple messages that can be posted at critical control points. Using nonscientific verbiage is an important aspect of the program, which has been reviewed by retailers and federal food-safety regulators, and tested in supermarkets.

"This campaign is founded on a lot of science that's going to help you augment the programs you're already coordinating," said Stephan McCauley, who helped write the plan at Porter-Novelli. "It's a reminder program, not a training program."

In discussing the goal of Fight BAC! It's Worth the Time, McCauley cited FMI statistics showing that, while 100% of chain stores have an associate-directed, food-safety program in place, only 40% of independent operators do.

"Our own research shows the [total] number at 90%, which is probably close to the average for all supermarkets, chain and independent," he said.

Beyond the simple purpose of reminding store associates to keep food safety first, the program also seeks to ease the burden on store management, which is responsible for maintaining food safety through training and education.

"More than any other industry, you've got a high-turnover issue to deal with, and you're always training new people and losing them before you get a chance to invest this really important information," McCauley noted.

The vehicles for getting the messages across are self-adhesive signs that can be affixed to just about any surface, a feature that allows retailers to highlight food safety at critical sanitation intercepts like inside bathroom stalls, on the doors of hot food cases or near deli slicers, for example.

Each reminder uses short, nonscientific words and numerous periods that punctuate the risk factors. This type of delivery helps alleviate associates' perceptions that most food-safety language is too technical and difficult for them to understand, McCauley said.

The first message, time/temperature control, includes the reminder to "Stop BAC in its Tracks: Keep the doors closed to keep hot food hot." As in all the messages, an image of the green Fight BAC! mascot is included.

Personal hygiene poses the question, "All Washed Up? Soap. Water. 20 Seconds. Paper towel dry. That's all that's needed to reduce bacteria."

Proper sanitation is addressed with, "Watch Your BAC. Wash all utensils with soap and hot water. Rinse. Air dry."

And cross contamination warns associates to "Get BAC. Before BAC Gets You." All the signs are printed with large black letters on a green background for maximum impact, said McCauley.

The initiative was launched after the FDA issued a challenge to the food industry to renew its pledge to food safety after a compliance behavior study conducted in 2000 revealed shortfalls, McCauley said.

"Some of the factors are out of [the store associate's] control, such as ordering products from unsafe sources," he said. "So we focused our program on four factors that were really critical to improving food safety at the associate level."

For those retailers with a large number of Spanish-speaking associates, there is a Spanish/English language kit. Subscription to the program includes new materials mailed every six months.