Supermarket News conducted its first ever Fresh Foods survey this year to gauge readers’ opinions on the perishables categories.
One of the questions asked retailers to choose their top two greatest fears in the perimeter. At the top of the list was food safety, which 50% of retailers said was one of their biggest fears.
“Food safety is just plain scary,” said one retailer respondent.
Another linked food safety to overall performance in the perimeter. “Food safety is paramount due to consumer awareness, and the need for all businesses to assure high sanitation standards to improve sales [and] build customer loyalty and credibility.”
This year promises to be a big one for food safety as the FDA finalizes rules related to the Food Safety Modernization Act. Retailers will need to work with their suppliers and distribution centers to make sure they have all the paperwork required by the regulations.
Food safety is also in the news again because of the recent recall of Blue Bell Ice Cream. One retailer respondent to the Fresh Foods survey commented on the challenges of “too much negative publicity regarding food safety.”
Even when the retailer is not the culprit, how a store handles a recall or an outbreak of foodborne illness can greatly impact customer perceptions of that retailer.
Consumers may sometimes find fault even when retailers think they are doing the right thing. When H-E-B removed all Blue Bell products from stores following the company’s recall, some customers complained on the retailer’s Facebook page.
“VERY disappointed to see that Blue Bell had been pulled from the shelves. As a Texas company, HEB should be more supportive of a fellow Texas company!! Blue Bell is the best and perfectly safe. Totally ridiculous to pull from the shelves,” said one fan.
However, other customers recognized that H-E-B was acting out of concern for its customers.
“Have you all read there was a recall on bluebell ice cream, glad HEB is on top of that and watching out for our health and safety,” responded another fan.
Although employee knowledge and training wasn’t listed as a choice for greatest fear in the perimeter in the Fresh Foods survey, multiple retailer respondents wrote comments for that question about the lack of skilled staff, such as one who noted that “experienced produce clerks [are] retiring and future clerks poorly trained.”
“Some of the new hires (kids) have no idea of the responsibility involved in the rotation of product FIFO aspect of the business,” said another.
Such first in, first out procedures may be about freshness, but they also apply to food safety. Retailers must ensure that inexperienced employees, whether in the perimeter or elsewhere, understand the procedures that will keep food safe for customers.
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