Supermarkets have managers who oversee the produce, grocery, and nonfoods sections of the store — so why not a manager to oversee food safety?
That’s a proposal that the Food and Drug Administration has put forth at the tail end of its 10-year long food safety assessment. In that time, the FDA examined several hundred retail food establishments, evaluating them across a range of risk factors, including source, employee hygiene, cooking practices and equipment.
Recent press has focused on outbreaks from contaminated sources, as with the Wright County Egg recall. That’s certainly an area that needs to improve, but the most consistent hazards, according to the FDA, are the ones found at the store level: poor hygiene, improper handling, and contaminated surfaces and equipment.
A food safety manager would tighten up those in-house operations, ensuring food prep stations are clean and tested for germs, that hand-washing signs are up in all the right places, and other preventive measures.
Some retailers already have this position in place, and the FDA would like to see more companies doing it. According to the agency, compliance percentages on average are several points higher in stores that have safety managers versus those that don’t. In the restaurant industry, those with the managers had 70% compliance, while those that didn’t had 58%.
That’s a big difference, and magnified further when you’re talking about the health and safety of your customers. But will supermarkets be willing to bear the extra cost? I’m sure most of them feel they already have the proper checks and balances in place, with the certification of food handlers by programs like ServSafe pretty much standard practice — even though this can be hard to maintain in the high-turnover retail world. If it’s not going to make a huge difference or add to the bottom line, they figure, why bother?
Framing all of this is the FDA’s push towards improved food safety standards within the limits of its current mandate. The agency taken some bold steps lately — going after misleading health claims, rewriting growing and handling standards — and it’s on the doorstep of gaining increased regulatory powers. If things keep going this way, things like food safety managers may not be a voluntary measure.