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With an overarching theme of “Growing the Future,” the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s 2015 Seminar and Expo opened Sunday morning with lessons about the importance of food safety and compassionate capitalism.
The IDDBA’s annual Dairy-Deli-Bake runs through Tuesday at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Opening the general session early Sunday was self-styled “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, who presented highlights from a new study conducted for the IDDBA, “The High Stakes of Food Safety in Dairy, Deli, Bakery and Prepared Foods.”
More people are now choosing where they shop based on the deli and prepared foods, rather than produce, Lempert asserted, making food safety all the more important in these areas as well as the overall store. According to the study, a third of shoppers have left unclean stores and more than half said they’d switch their loyalties over a dirty store.
“If you screw up on food safety, you’re out of business,” Lempert declared. “It’s critical we pay attention to the little things,” including clean counters and good lighting in deli and prepared food areas.
Other study revelations:
- Worker appearance affects shoppers’ confidence in food safety.
- People most dislike self-service samples and having customers offered tastes during slicing.
- Shoppers have the greatest confidence in deli items sliced or prepared to order.
Further driving home the importance of food safety was attorney Shawn Stevens, founder of the Food Industry Council, in his presentation, “Putting Your Customer First: Why Safe Food Really Matters.”
“What happens when we get food safety wrong?” Steven asked. The United States had 500 food recalls last year, he noted, adding that the USDA and FDA estimate that 10 times that number were unconfirmed.
Food safety risks are real, Stevens said, and when we don’t know where our food is coming from “food can be very scary and food can be dangerous. Risk is everywhere when it comes to food.” For example, 10 percent of apples carry listeria, a bacteria that can be easily spread through cross contamination as it comes into contact with other surfaces and it can be deadly.
It’s enough to scare anyone from ever buying food again, Stevens suggested. But what can retailers do to ensure that the food they are selling to their customers is as safe as it can be?
Stevens advised that retailers get to know their suppliers better, visit the farms or manufacturing facilities, and know what kinds of companies they’re doing business with, insisting that grocers can’t rely entirely on audits to “know” manufacturers.
He further recommended creating robust training programs and being aggressive in training employees. For example, the IDDBA’s Safe Food Matters program focuses on listeria and how to prevent its spread. Retailers should make sure all employees know about training programs that are available to teach them methods that ensure food is safely and properly handled.
“The most important thing retailers can do is develop, implement and maintain a robust food safety culture,” Stevens said.
He recommended that retailers follow the three C’s of food safety: compassion, commitment and communication. Retailers have to want to provide safe food because it is the right thing to do and to have compassion for their customers. But in order to support their compassion, retailers have to commit to putting the resources behind a food safety program. Finally, grocers have to communicate how both compassion and commitment are important to creating a robust program to all in the company.
“We are responsible for the health of a nation,” Stevens concluded. “For each of our customers, we can’t relent; it’s your job to keep customers safe.”