Prepared Foods Create Food Safety Challenges

Demand for more prepared meals has created new food safety concerns for supermarkets.

September 12, 2016

NEW YORK – The “explosion of prepared meals” at supermarkets is bringing new food safety challenges that many chains are racing to manage, reports the Wall Street Journal

The news source writes that in June Whole Foods Market was forced to temporarily shutter one of its commercial kitchens that produces fresh meals for its stores over an FDA warning about food safety concerns. Last year Costco Wholesale Corp. was linked to an E.coli outbreak from rotisserie chicken salad that sickened 19 people. And deli foods from the natural-foods grocer Boise Co-Op were linked to a salmonella outbreak last year that sickened nearly 300 people.

“The grocers’ woes highlight challenges facing supermarkets competing for consumers forgoing home-cooking and traditional restaurant meals in favor of fresh offerings from sushi counters or taco bars at neighborhood grocery stores. As prepared-food offerings increase in volume and complexity, the risk of food-safety issues also grows, with supermarkets now facing safety concerns that have beset the restaurant industry for years,” writes the Journal.

According to Technomic, fresh prepared foods generated about $28 billion in sales in supermarkets in 2015.

In the convenience store channel, prepared food sales dollars rose 8.3% in 2015, and gross profit dollars rose 5.4%, according to the NACS State of the Industry Report of 2015 Data. “Prepared food has great margins, drives traffic and allows for add-ons from other categories,” said Stephan Mecklenburg, NACS research coordinator, in the September NACS Magazine “Category Close-Up” on prepared foods. “We see a ton of revenue to be made in fresh, prepared food as long as the retailer can differentiate from competitors and connect with customers.”

Sam Crowe, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Journal that data on foodborne illness outbreaks linked to grocery stores is highly dependent on reporting by state health departments. According to the latest information collected by the CDC, foodborne outbreaks more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, with salmonella the most common outbreak tied to stores, followed by norovirus.

Employees mishandling prepared food or not washing their hands are among the highest concerns related to food safety, noted Robert Powitz, a Connecticut health officer and forensic sanitarian.

Read more about food safety in convenience stores in “Keeping Food Safe” from the July issue of NACS Magazine. Plus, at the upcoming NACS Show in Atlanta, convenience retailers can learn about food safety in the education session, “How Not To Be the Next Food Safety Headline.” Leading food safety experts will help attendees:

  • Assess where food safety risks truly lie
  • Evaluate your food safety processes
  • Learn effective training practices
  • Determine which food training practices are best for your business
  • Identify which equipment is right for your food program

The NACS Show is taking place October 18–21 in Atlanta;register today.