INDIANAPOLIS - Marsh Supermarkets here uses a combination of careful screening of people, including employees, suppliers and distributors, as well as technology to minimize threats to food.
In compliance with bioterrorism regulations, Marsh as well as other retail chains keep track-and-trace records that show where a shipment of food came from.
By tracing shipments one step back, and when appropriate, one step forward from a chain's own facilities to its stores, supermarkets are able to establish traceability.
That way if a contamination incident occurs, they can quickly determine the source of the problem.
"Computer systems and scanning have helped us a lot with track and trace," said Scott Alkinburgh, who heads a food safety and defense team for Marsh.
Track-and-trace records are not mandatory in the bakery as they are in the meat department, but Marsh uses the system in the bakery as well.
"If we have complaints or food safety problems, we have to know where to go to find the cause," Alkinburgh said.
Retailers also screen suppliers and distributors. Having stable relationships with long-term suppliers goes a long way to keeping the food chain safe, as does knowing the delivery people who routinely visit the stores.
"We teach our store-level associates to get to know the people who deliver from outside our warehouse," Alkinburgh said. "If there's a new driver, we train them to carefully look over the delivery to ensure that there is nothing unusual," he continued. "We also have a much shorter window for receiving deliveries. We narrowed it down to four hours and we have a seasoned veteran in place to receive the goods. Having a short delivery window also minimizes the opportunities for some type of contamination or tampering to occur."
Supermarkets with self-serve displays of bagels, doughnuts and other baked items generally place them in high-traffic areas of the store, such as the deli, where sales associates can keep an eye on the displays.
"Often an associate may be assigned to a display case and periodically checks on it every hour, or even every 15 minutes sometimes," said Kent Tapley, Marsh's vice president of deli and bakery operations. "That's a huge deterrent when you talk about [how to deter] someone who might do harm."
Marsh also relies on its information technology department to secure computer systems, while additional surveillance cameras help monitor store activities and, with any luck, prevent undesirable activities.
"We have also emphasized the importance of preventing people from gaining access to areas where they are not authorized to be," Alkinburgh said.
Both Tapley, who has been in food retailing for 30 years, and Alkinburgh, who has been in the industry 10 years, said they have never seen a serious food safety incident in the bakery, including cases of tampering.
"I don't think it's very common at all," Tapley said, "and if we should have a concern about a manufacturer, we would go to their plant and take a look at their programs. Scott did that recently, and after we saw his report, we declined to carry the item. If we have any concerns, we will not carry an item."