Over the last 24 months, “grocerants” have proliferated as supermarkets seek to bring more customers through the door, differentiating themselves from online shopping, and competing in an increasingly blurred market against quick-service restaurants and convenience stores. These dine-in and takeout restaurants, varying in size and scale, come with food safety risks that supermarket staff may not be accustomed to encountering.
Here are six food safety areas to watch for as supermarkets look to enter the grocerant business.
Food preparation as theater
Many grocerants offer an open theater for customers to watch food being prepared. When you invite customers to watch, food safety practices must be clearly demonstrated as part of the food preparation process in order to manage customer perceptions; for example, food preparation area cleanliness, wearing and changing gloves, hand washing, using hair nets and beard nets, changing out tools and utensils (i.e., cutting boards, knives) between tasks, etc.
Preparing to order vs. preparing in batch
Supermarkets often prep grab-and-go foods in batches; a great advantage of preparing in large batches is that you can use the same equipment for a long period of time without having to clean it and switch to a different task. That provides a significant efficiency gain because breaking down equipment, then putting it through the wash-rinse-sanitize and air-dry processes takes time and labor.
However, grocerants will likely prepare food in smaller batches or make items to order. This switch necessitates different food safety practices, such as cleaning as you go and between every order. It also increases the speed of service necessary, which can lead to inadvertent food safety errors
Grocerants may use products and prepare foods at a different pace than a grocery store department would. A grocerant may need to plan for smaller batches or carryover, which can lead to questions around date-marking. Remember, if you don’t plan to serve it that day, it needs to be date-marked. Any items set out for sale must also be date-marked.
The new U.S. Food and Drug Administration Menu Labeling requirement has added complexity for grocerants that can get confusing. Uncertain if you need menu labeling or not? Bring in an expert to make sure you’re covered.
If you are required to have menu labeling, you will need to consider what information to post, where to post it, what font size to use for legibility, and more.
If you are not required to have menu labeling, your team might consider doing it anyway. As it is implemented across restaurants, consumers will become accustomed to seeing the information and not having it available could influence their perceptions of your grocerant.
Grocerants with open self-service areas will need to ensure that foods, serving stations, and grab-and-go stations are in plain view of employees who can monitor to ensure foods are not tampered with or contaminated. This may necessitate additional training for staff members.
Overall store cleanliness and maintenance
Grocerants are increasing foot traffic in store. That’s great news — but it also brings general store cleanliness and maintenance to the forefront. While not 100% food safety related, keep in mind that more customers means more eyes on areas of your store, especially in and around the grocerant. You’ll want to give these areas curb appeal and ensure they’re clean and maintained. Is the parking lot tidy? Are outdoor trash receptacles overflowing or attracting pests? Do you have a separate entrance for the grocerant, or are customers entering through your store? If they’re entering through the store, are your displays in the areas customers walk through clean, maintained with fresh product, generally eye-catching, and free of safety hazards? Are you staffed to clean and maintain areas of the restaurant, including bussing tables?
Food safety is critical to overall customer experience — but additional food safety practices shouldn’t deter you from adding a grocerant to the mix in your store. With proper training, these tasks can become part of your day-to-day operations, elevating your store’s overall culture of food safety and bringing with it the added revenue and traffic benefits of a grocerant.
As vice president for The Steritech Institute at Steritech, Chris Boyles is responsible for the consulting, training and quality assurance functions within Steritech’s Brand Standards Business. He manages the technical design and implementation of food safety, workplace safety and operational service excellence assessment programs for major brands across the restaurant, food retail, foodservice and contract dining segments.