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Every food business is required to follow the legal requirements for food safety, such as EU regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs (EC, 2004) and in US there are local laws based on or similar to the FDA’s Food Code (Food and Drug Administration, 2013).
The general principles of food safety require every business operator along the food chain to ensure that the safety of food is maintained.
According to the EU General Food Law the key obligations of food handling businesses are:
Grocery store activities can cover a wide range, including food processing and food serving, so operators need to follow a wide set of safety procedures. The activities of the business can include (FAO, 2014):
These are general guidelines applicable for all food businesses and activities to achieve the minimum standards to ensure safety for the consumer (FAO, 2014).
Food safety procedures include:
Grocery stores that produce fresh and cooked foods in store are required to follow the same food safety procedures as restaurants and other food serving businesses.
Stores can apply the same safety principles based on HACCP as the food processing industry, but adapted for the much more varied conditions and production.
HACCP principles are applied to protect food from biological, physical and chemical food safety hazards by applying controls that prevent direct contamination and cross contamination.
Hazards can be introduced anywhere in the supply chain from production on farm to transport and during storage and processing in the retail store.
Raw animal products such as meat, eggs, fish and shellfish, and especially poultry, can carry microorganisms that are harmful to the consumer. In store, staff surfaces and equipment can introduce hazards to the food (Food and Drug Administration, 2006).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the most important factors causing food-borne illnesses and classified them into five broad risk categories:
Cross contamination is the transfer of disease-causing microorganisms or allergens from one food to another. It is one of the most important factors in causing food-borne illnesses.
All employees should be trained in the principles of cross-contamination, including production, sanitation, maintenance, quality assurance and any other employees that could enter food handling areas or come into contact with employees that do.
FDA guidelines for retail stores and other food handling businesses are to implement control measures in all phases of the operation, including:
Dangerous microorganisms that are common hazards and can be transferred to foods by cross-contamination include:
In retail food preparation, the more varied nature of the foods prepared, processes and ingredients used necessitates the adoption of a different approach from food processors.
The FDA suggests that the ‘Process Approach’ is used by food retailers, which divides the process into broad categories and applying hazard analysis to each category (Food and Drug Administration, 2006).
The Process Approach identifies three preparation processes based on the number of times food temperature crosses the ‘temperature danger zone’ of 41-135°F (7.2-57.2°C):
Process 1: food preparation with no cook step: this covers a wide range of foods including salads, cheeses, deli meats, raw oysters, burger meat, steaks.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Hold → Serve
Process 2: food preparation for same day service: cooked and held hot.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Cook → Hold → Serve
Process 3: complex food preparation: cooked in large volume for next day service.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Cook → Cool → Reheat → Hot → Hold → Serve
Cold holding prevents bacterial growth and toxin production, cooking kills microorganisms and parasites, hot holding prevents growth of bacteria, cooling inhibits growth of bacteria. The three processes are illustrated in the diagram below.
The passage of food through the temperature danger zone for three processing categories
(Food and Drug Administration, 2006)
Food security measures are designed to protect food supplied by businesses from malicious, criminal and terrorist activities.
In the US the Federal Anti-Tampering Act makes it a federal crime to “tamper with or taint a consumer product, or to attempt, threaten or conspire to tamper with or taint a consumer product, or make a false statement about having tampered with or tainted a consumer product”.
The retail sector is on the front line in protecting the consumer directly from tampered products and other malicious acts affecting safety of food.
GFSI guidelines for manufacturing now include measures for food defence aimed at “preventing, protecting, and responding to the deliberate contamination of food by bacterial agents, toxins, chemicals, radiation or a physical object”.
The FDA has issued guidelines on implementing protective measures specifically for retail food stores and food service establishments.
It focuses on each part of the food delivery system that can be controlled by retail business, but also recommends that each business adopts the measures that are appropriate for its size (FDA, 2007):
Preparation: assign management responsibility, assess security procedures, prepare a strategy, plan emergency response, promote awareness among staff, and prepare a communications plan for staff and the public
Supervision: all staff, from temporary workers, cleaners and maintenance staff, contract workers to office staff and new staff should come under a supervisory system to prevent security breaches. This includes regular security checks of buildings and computer systems
Investigation and alerting: investigate any signs or information of security breaches and inform relevant authorities such as police and health
Evaluation: periodically evaluate previous activities and review and verify effectiveness of current measures
Screening: verify the identity of all staff on the premises, eg using references, address, phone number, obtain background information, including criminal background check if appropriate (and legal)
Identification: establish a system of identification and recognition of staff where appropriate eg by using uniforms, name badges, ID cards, and take them back when staff leave
Shift assignments: management of people on the premises, knowing who is onsite and where they should be
Restricted access: set up a system to control access of staff, visitors and the public to different areas of the facility where appropriate and set up a security system to control access
Personal items: control personal items, including medicines, allowed in sensitive areas that could be a threat to hygiene or safety
Security training: provide training how to prevent, detect and respond to tampering or other security threats
Monitor staff behaviour: be aware of and watch for unusual behaviour that is not appropriate for the role of the person involved
Staff health: unusual health conditions among staff can indicate malicious activity, so management should be alert to these occurrences
Incoming products: use only permitted suppliers with secure delivery systems; verify and monitor deliveries, shipping documents and incoming products; check for abnormal signs and counterfeiting; alert law enforcement and health agencies as appropriate
Storage: keep track of products and materials; establish a system for managing returned and damaged products, missing and extra stock
Food service and retail display: check for products in unusual conditions that could be a sign of tampering; monitor poisonous and toxic chemicals that are on sale; monitor self-service food areas
Water and utilities: maintain security of air, water, electricity and refrigeration and be aware of potential threats
Mail & packages: have procedures for monitoring security incoming mail and packages
Computer systems: implement adequate computer security systems, including staff access, up to date security software and firewalls
EC. (2004, April 30). Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs. Official Journal of the European Union.
FAO. (2014). Guidance on hygiene and safety in the food retail sector. RAP publication 2014/16. Bangkok: FAO.
FDA. (2007). Guidance for Industry: Retail Food Stores and Food Service Establishments: Food Security Preventive Measures Guidance. Retrieved March 4, 2016, from FDA Guidance & Regulation.
Food and Drug Administration. (2006). Managing Food Safety: A Manual for the Voluntary Use of HACCP Principles for Operators of Food Service and Retail Establishments. Maryland: FDA.
Food and Drug Administration. (2013). Food Code. Maryland: FDA.