New Hampshire's retailers and restaurant owners have been hitting the books to learn about foodborne illnesses and how to stop them.
Due to a law passed in 2007, all of the state's food-service establishments — including supermarkets that offer prepared foods — will be required to have at least one full-time employee assigned as a “certified food protection manager” by July 8.
Fortunately for Associated Grocers of New England's members, their co-op was prepared. Since 2006, it has been offering ServSafe training and certification courses at its distribution center in Pembroke, N.H.
“It's not something that was totally new, but the [new food safety] bill has probably stepped up interest in the program a little bit,” said Rick Wheeler, vice president of wholesale merchandising and procurement for AG New England. “A lot of retailers out there probably wouldn't meet that requirement today, so we decided to get a new training course going as soon as possible after the bill passed.”
New Hampshire's law will require every food-service establishment in the state to have at least one person certified by a program that meets standards set by the Lincoln, Calif.-based Conference for Food Protection. The National Restaurant Association's ServSafe program was a convenient choice, Wheeler said, because one of AG New England's suppliers already had trained teachers on staff, and had expressed a willingness to help the cooperative set up its own program for its members.
“Bunzl, a primary supplier of our store supplies, made it known that they had people on staff that were trained teachers of this program,” Wheeler said. “We contacted them, agreed to provide the location, and charged a small fee to offset the cost of the books and course materials that Bunzl provided. We tried to get as many people as we could. Some stores had two or three people show up, which is good, because obviously with turnover you want to be able to cover that [position].”
Certification training is a simple process. Wheeler has textbooks and other course materials sent to attendees in advance, so that they can familiarize themselves with the program's basic concepts beforehand. In general, ServSafe focuses on issues such as safe food receiving; preventing cross-contamination; utilizing time and temperature control effectively; cooking, cooling and reheating products safely; and ensuring good personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitation practices are followed in the workplace.
Diltz also plays a part in making sure that new gluten-free products that end up on DLM's shelves are items that she herself would eat.
“Gluten-free eaters sometimes look at ingredient lists and say, ‘There are no “real” ingredients in here so I guess it's safe to eat it,’” explained Diltz. “But items containing dyes and additives can complicate their lives in other ways. Just because something is gluten-free, doesn't mean you should eat it.”
Since Diltz suffers from gluten allergies, she usually taste tests items that DLM's grocery buyer is thinking about sourcing.
“He often gives me samples so that I can let him know if they're in a price range for our shoppers.”
Such considerations are important since a loaf of gluten-free bread costs about $6. Diltz noted that breads and pastas are DLM's biggest gluten-free sellers and many of its new gluten-free offerings arrive at its shelves by way of customer request.
Because of this, the gluten-free merchandising mix offered in its Washington Square location vary from the offerings in its Oakwood store.
Dorothy Lane Market has gotten a better handle on its gluten-free shoppers' desires since it began hosting a monthly Gluten-Free Food Lover's Club meeting.
“The other support group [that convenes] in Dayton focuses on the disease, but I wanted to focus on foods that gluten-averse shoppers can eat and are good for them,” explained Diltz. “I wanted to discuss ways for not letting the celiac condition rule their existence.”
The retailer prepared for its first get-together last October by culling the names of shoppers who've purchased gluten-free food items in the past. The next time these consumers made a purchase at the point of sale, a small invitation was automatically printed out and presented to them along with their receipt.
DLM was able to identify these consumers by searching for specific stockkeeping units in the database of its Pay by Touch system that tracks shopper purchases. The technology facilitates the creation of lists that include 10 targeted offers. Shoppers can access their personalized list by scanning their fingertip at an in-store kiosk.
About 25 shoppers attended DLM's first Gluten-Free Food Lover's Club meeting that concluded with a store tour.