The Important Role Food Safety Plays in C-Stores

“Food safety culture is the idea that everybody practices, believes and wholeheartedly understands what makes food safe and how to keep food safe.”

May 11, 2023

NACS Magazine recently interviewed Jeremy Zenlea, director, and head of health and safety, EG America LLC, and asked him “What is the role of food safety in convenience stores?”

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—My background is in food manufacturing. When I was approached about the job, I questioned why a convenience store company needed a food safety professional.

And then I started realizing, oh wait, there’s coffee. There’s pastries, they’re cooking stuff, they’re doing all this. I saw that there’s definitely the need for a food safety professional, especially one with a manufacturing background.

Convenience retail is spilling into the QSR restaurant space right now. There’s going to be a lot of changes in the industry—there already are—in terms of food.

Quite honestly, “The Simpsons” and the portrayal of the food at the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store made me want to help lead change in the industry. I’m a big “Simpsons” fan and the only thing I could imagine was walking into one of our stores and seeing—like on the show—the roller grill items that are held together by tape and glue because they’re so old that they’re falling apart. Obviously, that’s not the case, though that was the perception even just a few years ago.

Last year we held the inaugural NACS Food Safety Conference in conjunction with the NACS Show and we’ll do it again this year. Attendees said that they liked having the range of experts who discussed everything from the basics to the latest emerging food trends.

This year we want many voices of c-store food safety professionals involved so that we can share practices that help not only the food safety folks but also foodservice managers, who really can be seen as category managers. Last year c-suite folks attended, and it gave them a really good overview of what the industry is and how it’s growing. This year we’re inviting more people from other companies, of all different sizes, so we can learn from their experiences. Hopefully they can give some really good advice and share some of the failures so that others can learn what works and what may not.

If a QSR or c-store is not really doing what it’s supposed to do in practicing food safety, you often can tell right away. How dirty is it? How unkempt is the outside? Is the landscaping a mess? If they’re not attending to the things you can see, imagine how they are attending to the things that you can’t see—like food safety.

Food safety culture is the idea that everybody practices, believes and wholeheartedly understands what makes food safe and how to keep food safe. It’s also a philosophy. It’s saying that I am going to do things that are not necessarily more efficient, and not necessarily more cost effective. However, they do contribute to food safety, and that’s critical to our business.

A culture of food safety is not just the health and safety team understanding where the risks are; we want the store employees and the frontline employees to understand what the risks are and to create a dialogue and reach back out so that they’re practicing food safety. We hope to create a space where everybody is going to give feedback and they all have food safety top of mind when they’re performing their everyday tasks.

NACS has several food-safety resources for foodservice providers. Find them on the Food Safety topics page. NACS also offers free webinar on how to build a strong and effective food safety and cleanliness culture.

The inaugural NACS Food Safety Conference took place at the 2022 NACS Show and explored ways to drive change and manage risk in c-store foodservice programs. Read more about the event in the NACS Magazine article “What's Your Food Safety Culture?” in this month’s issue.