What does food safety look like in convenience stores? Is it different than food safety in restaurants? Yes and no. Mindset and standard operating procedures are critical no matter where food is sold.
PREPARE FOR BATTLE
Arming team members with the proper mindset, as well as the proper tools, can help convenience foodservice operators not only overcome the “gas station food” shadow, but also create a food destination. A mentality of waging war on neighboring quick-service restaurants is possibly the strongest tool convenience operators have to win the trust and dollars of hungry guests.
All team members within a convenience location should know they are battling against all surrounding business, especially restaurants and grocers. Whether or not an employee has a direct role in foodservice, everyone helps to sell food. A clean lot, working fuel pumps, clean trash bins and well-stocked shelves all set the stage for a second-to-none food destination.
It is said that cleanliness is next to godliness — and it can also be said that cleanliness is next to transactions. Spotless aprons, dirt-free nails and neatly-restrained hair establish the foundation for a clean environment, and safety builds from there. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that cleanliness is the best way to prevent foodborne illness, specifically by focusing on four areas: clean hands and surfaces, avoid cross-contamination, cook correctly and refrigerate properly. By mimicking practices long followed by restaurants, c-store operators are best prepared for selling food safely.
One of the best ways c-stores can successfully execute hold times is by using a labeling system with defined categories. Team members should be confident in labeling food with correct expiration times, which is critical to protecting customers from foodborne illness. Clearly posted reference materials are a must. Printing technology can help. For example, the shelf life of an item like hamburger buns may have a frozen shelf life, thawed shelf life, and an expiration time once it’s a component of a hot hamburger in a grab-and-go case; operators must understand the importance of applying the right hold time depending on the environment.
State and local regulations typically require food handlers to become certified in some type of food safety training, and this knowledge can empower team members to make choices that promote quality, safe food. ServSafe food handler and manager certifications can be helpful tools to ensure staff is trained in the basics of how to properly clean food surfaces and handle food.
EXCELLENCE IS A HABIT
Little things add up to a safe, appetizing environment. Aristotle is attributed with saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
With this advice in mind, c-store operators should build great habits into hourly and everyday routines. Some best practices include encouraging team members to clean as they go, never walk past trash anywhere on the property, whether on-the-clock or not, and maintain a mindset of beating the competition on cleanliness. Routine store walks to check for spills on the floor can prevent injuries. Checking for spills at self-serve food, coffee and fountain areas can prevent negative customer perceptions.
Restaurants have the advantage of being positioned as appetizing in every aspect as a destination for food. By contrast, c-stores are typically positioned to be perfectly convenient for everything, with foodservice being added to many locations relatively recently. By focusing on overall store cleanliness and personal accountability to execute at a high level, c-store operators can build store sales and steal share from neighboring foodservice competitors.
Appetizing cues within food environments are actually the same, no matter what else might be for sale on the property.
Jessica Williams is the founder and CEO of Food Forward Thinking LLC, which specializes in new product development, menu labeling compliance and food safety for restaurant, convenience and grocery chains. Contact her at [email protected] or read more at FoodForwardThinking.com.