The consequences of ignoring food safety protocols are expensive. Technology can help c-stores avoid food safety missteps.
By Francine Shaw
America’s food industry has a $55.5 billion safety problem annually, as recently reported by Fortune Magazine. This includes foodborne illnesses at convenience stores and restaurants, food recalls and other food safety issues.
The price can be steep. A 2015 study by Robert Scharff, an associate professor at Ohio State University, estimated that foodborne illnesses cost that $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity and illness in the U.S.
Each year 48 million Americans become sick from foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Therefore, investing in food safety is one of the smartest things c-stores can do. The expense, time and energy necessary to implement— or elevate—your food safety protocols won’t be overwhelming, and it’s crucial to your business success.
Last May, nacho cheese sold at a California convenience store was linked to a botulism outbreak that sickened 10 people and killed one. The convenience store temporarily lost its food and drink permit—resulting in lost revenue—amid the ensuing investigation.
Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 7-Eleven customers in West Jordan, Utah were exposed to hepatitis A, due to an infected 7-Eleven employee who had gone to work and handled the c-store’s food while sick.
Having a foodborne illness incident or outbreak can result in decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, potential lawsuits, diminished sales (and loyalty) from guests afraid to visit the (possibly contaminated) store, and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.
Food safety should be part of your company’s culture. Everyone—on every shift— should be trained in proper food safety protocols.
TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP
New technological solutions can now enhance food safety protocols and make it faster, more accurate and more efficient to conduct inventory, auditing and training.
Sensors ensure foods are being held at proper temperatures. Centralized, continuous refrigeration monitoring systems signal when temperatures in the store’s coolers or freezers rise above safe holding temperatures, eliminating the need to throw away entire coolers or freezers of food due to improperly working units.
Innovative digital tools can now be used for c-stores’ internal auditing systems, which is a more efficient, cost-effective and accurate solution versus the pen and paper methods often used in the foodservice industry.
Many companies now provide downloadable apps that enhance the way foodservice employees conduct inspections, keep temperature logs, conduct training, manage QA forms, access food code information and more. Now, critical food safety data can be at employees’ fingertips.
Operational efficiencies have been proven to improve stores’ bottom line. Eliminating pen and paper line checks can save $250-$600 per year per store, smart sensors that prevent food spoilage can save $1,100 per episode, and reducing food and labor costs can save $4,700 per year per store, according to a recent CoInspect survey. Further, CoInspect experts said the ROI on in-store technical solutions can be as high as $10,000-$15,000 per year for c-stores with foodservice capabilities. Digital tools can help with brand protection and quality assurance concerns by optimizing and improving line checks, shift logs, inspections, auditing and other reporting.
There’s a widespread “pencil whipping” problem in the foodservice industry, where employees using paper record systems falsify records or “cheat” on their processes, which digital tools eliminate through real-time data collection, and visual records using photos and videos.
Technology that can help minimize labor, reduce (or eliminate) foodborne illness risks and minimize food waste is not an expense, it’s an important investment.
Often, c-store owner/operators will tell me, “I can’t afford to make the investment.” My response is always, “You can’t afford not to.”
Francine Shaw is president of Savvy Food Safety Inc., and has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News and Food Management Magazine.