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How Some Retailers Link Food Safety, Innovation

How Some Retailers Link Food Safety, Innovation

We've heard it said that food safety is not a competitive issue. That means a retailer should never criticize the food safety efforts of a rival, because that may cast a pall over all other players.

That much makes sense. But then, how do you talk about retailers that excel at food safety strategies? Just raising the topic implies some players outshine others.

Here's one way to approach this. Let's first agree that retailers have widely adopted the best practices this industry has to offer, ranging from use of outside inspectors to food safety training programs. That makes this an extremely safe industry.

Some retailers, however, deserve special mention for innovative ways in which they embrace food safety cultures. That insight came from Jill Hollingsworth, group vice president, food safety, Food Marketing Institute. She gave me the examples of two such innovative retailers (among others): Safeway and Wegmans. An article in SN last week by Technology Editor Michael Garry outlined how those operators assess store practices and employ training and other steps to boost food safety strategies. This information was based on the retailers' presentations at a recent food safety conference session sponsored by Consumer Goods Forum, at which Hollingsworth was also a panelist.

Safeway's efforts include the use of three independent assessors, including health department inspectors, to monitor store practices. While internal audits are employed by other retailers, Safeway's approach is innovative because it will incorporate the implementation of a database of health department inspection information, Hollingsworth noted. “This will help them determine if one store that is doing things differently has better results with it,” she explained. “That way they can introduce things into new stores. They are taking information that is readily available, audit data, and using it in a database to help make decisions.”

At Wegmans, meanwhile, strategies include incorporating food safety into equipment design and purchases, and even into store design.

Wegmans studied how other companies and industry sectors incorporate food safety into their facilities, and then created an in-house class for designers, engineers and contractors to help them understand Wegmans' expectations, Hollingsworth relayed. This is innovative, she added, because “often the people who actually build stores may not understand what it means to design food safety into the store, so Wegmans actually helps teach them what this means.”

The upshot is that Safeway and Wegmans, two companies that are very different, manage to take unique approaches to food safety. “They both have found things for their models,” Hollingsworth said.

That's good because food safety execution needs to vary based on different operating models and structures of retailers. It's not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and by the way, neither is a supermarket.

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