By James Mitchell, product manager, ProAct Enterprise Software and Services, Emerson Climate Technologies
Fresh, nutritious food options are available today in more locations than ever before. Food retailers are adapting their facilities to meet this consumer demand for fresh foods. Supermarkets are offering prepared food options and convenience stores are adding foodservice elements. Small format stores are increasing their refrigerated sections and traditional grocers are adding onsite food preparation stations as store concepts converge to keep up with this trend.
As retailers navigate these changes and integrate refrigerated goods into their facilities, it’s critical that foods stay fresh to ensure product quality, brand consistency and customer satisfaction.
Maintaining freshness can be a profitability challenge for retailers, and it’s an important food safety issue as well.
Why is food safety so critical? From foodborne illnesses to product recalls and lawsuits, it’s easy to see how food safety issues can negatively impact retail businesses by looking at news headlines over the past 10 years. A single issue can close down an entire product category for an extended period of time, affecting the retailer’s profits and reputation.
Prevent Food Safety Issues with Remote Monitoring
Ninety-four percent of shoppers trust their grocery store to ensure that the food they purchase is safe. (FMI U.S. Shopper Trends, 2016) In fact, food retailers are perceived as an important ally in helping customers to achieve wellness goals. But, consumers are aware of the many possible hazards in the food system, so retailers have the potential to lose that trust if an issue arises in their stores.
Maintaining refrigeration systems can avoid costly equipment failure that could compromise food quality and affect the shopping experience. Preventing food loss and protecting customers from foodborne illnesses are critical concerns for retail store operators. Comprehensive, cost effective perishable goods and equipment monitoring methods can help address these concerns.
Remote monitoring services provide real-time performance data on critical store equipment, including insights around energy expenditure, equipment operating condition, facility maintenance needs, refrigerant leaks and shrink causes.
Some services offer simple systems for food monitoring, but have limited insight into other facility systems, lacking the big picture for retailers to fully know the impact of a potential issue. With robust equipment diagnostics, retailers will understand a specific equipment problem, be able to make a quick decision on necessary actions, ensure that the issue is actually fixed – not just masked – and gain valuable insights into how to prevent it in the future.
To ensure fresh, top quality food that meets consumer expectations, retailers need to accurately and efficiently report product and case temperatures. Relying on manual temperature recording is labor intensive, time consuming and potentially risky. Food quality reporting through remote monitoring services can automate this process to reduce human error and increase efficiency, while improving customer satisfaction and food safety.
And with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), U.S. regulators are keeping a closer eye on food safety risks and retailers’ impact on the environment.
The Impact of Changing Food Safety Regulations
Food retailers need to understand changing regulations that impact their businesses. Today’s convenience store operators are faced with regulatory updates around energy management and refrigerants, as well as what many are calling the most sweeping reform of food safety laws since the last change was enacted in 1938.
FSMA, which was signed into law in 2011, aims to better protect U.S. public health by strengthening the food safety system. This law enables the FDA to focus on preventing food safety problems, rather than relying primarily on reactive processes after problems occur.
FSMA Affects Five Key Areas, Including:
- Mandatory comprehensive, prevention-based controls for food facilities
- Inspection and compliance to provide oversight and respond effectively when problems emerge
- Authority to better ensure that imported products meet U.S. standards for food safety
- Recall authority for all food products
- Enhanced partnerships and collaboration among all food safety agencies
What FSMA Means for Retail Facilities
As the regulations address the entire supply chain, not all provisions of this legislation apply to food retailers. But retailers should review the law and its provisions because it places specific responsibilities and accountabilities on supply chain participants for actions and validation of processes. Thus, grocers will need to work collaboratively with their food suppliers and transportation carriers to ensure that all suppliers are aware of what’s needed for food safety compliance. Some information that may be of highest interest to retailers includes:
- Procedures to assure that facilities and vehicles used in processing and transport did not allow food to become unsafe or altered.
- Documented food processing and transport safety programs.
- Verification that supply chain employees were adequately trained on proper, safe temperature management during processing and transport.
- Temperature monitoring and reporting that demonstrate food was processed and transported under safe temperature conditions.
With FSMA, there is an increased importance on collecting and utilizing data, especially product temperatures, to ensure that food remains fresh and safe from the farm to the manufacturer to the store, and then into the hands of the consumer. Record keeping is a key component for FDA compliance, so retailers and their supply chain partners will need to ensure accurate, efficient documentation to verify the integrity of their foods.
As food retailers work to comply with industry regulations like FSMA, Emerson can serve as a trusted partner. Retail facility solutions, including integrated controls and remote monitoring, can assist with preventive management of facility systems to address potential food safety issues before they affect the product in stores.
As a product manager within Emerson Climate Technologies’ Retail Solutions business, James Mitchell is responsible for energy and maintenance applications and services. With more than 20 years of industry experience, Mitchell has worked with various retail customers on facility HVACR, energy and maintenance solutions, including chain-wide performance contracts with energy-saving initiatives such as controls and equipment upgrades, lighting retrofits and enterprise-wide building energy management system upgrades.