Food safety refers to implementing a set of best practices to prevent foodborne illness and prevent contamination in food products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the U.S. are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus (Staph).
Outbreaks of foodborne illness have made major news headlines in recent years, including at popular fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle. But while some major chains like Chipotle were able to survive outbreaks of foodborne illness and the negative publicity that followed, for others it’s enough to destroy their reputation as an establishment with high quality food, which can cause the business to go under. All it takes is one sick customer to significantly hurt a convenience store’s foodservice reputation, especially given the stigma of “gas station food.”
Savvy c-store chains take food safety extremely seriously, instituting a series of best practices in food preparation and requiring all employees to participate in regular food safety training.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cleanliness is key to preventing foodborne illness, including washing hands and surfaces, avoiding cross-contamination and ensuring that food is cooked and refrigerated in keeping with guidelines. State and local regulations, however, can very. For example, some locations require that food handlers become certified in various types of food safety training, or in some areas, the law may require that employees handling food wear gloves.
One of the best ways for convenience stores to stay on top of food safety is by getting serious about using a labeling system, Jessica Williams, founder and CEO of Food Forward Thinking LLC, recommended. Foodservice employees should label food clearly with the expiration date. Convenience stores should also ensure employees are aware of each product’s proper hold time, which can vary depending on the environment. For example, a food product may have a different shelf life depending on if it is frozen or thawed. Or it may have one hold time if it’s served hot, but another when it’s placed in a grab-and-go case. If employees don’t know about the difference in hold times the results can spell disaster. Posting reference materials for employees can help ensure that hold times are being executed properly on all food items, Williams pointed out. This alone can be a major step in helping prevent foodborne illness.
Building food safety best practices right into employees’ daily routines — from washing hands to taking steps to prevent cross contamination — and checking that they’ve been completed can help ensure proper procedures are followed.