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Food safety for retail stores

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.

Maybe you have always been focused on providing customers with safe food but creating a healthy, hygienic store environment is now more critical than ever – and your employees and customers are watching.

The key obligations of food operators

According to the EU General Food Law the key obligations of food handling businesses are:

  • Safety: do not sell unsafe food
  • Responsibility: the food business is responsible for the food it transports, stores and sells
  • Traceability: all suppliers and consignees must be identifiable
  • Transparency: relevant authorities must be informed if food that the operator transports, stores or sells is not safe
  • Emergency: food believed to be unsafe must be withdrawn immediately
  • Prevention: operators must identify and critical points in their processes, apply controls and review them regularly
  • Co-operation: co-operate with relevant authorities to reduce risks to food safety.

Grocery stores

Rentokil pci innovation

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):

  • Simple processing operations such as cleaning, sorting, grading, fumigation and packaging operations (fruits and vegetables, staple foods)
  • Processed food, private labels or own-brand manufacturing/ processing through contract manufacturers
  • Branded product procurements and supply chain, including warehousing cold chain
  • Front-end retail activities including ‘shop-in-shop’ activity
  • Eateries, restaurants, milling, bakery, preparing and packing cut fruit and vegetables, wine shops, etc
  • Fresh meat/fish (shop-in-shop or stand-alone)
  • Live seafood/fish

Food safety management and hygiene practices

These are general guidelines applicable for all food businesses and activities to achieve the minimum standards to ensure safety for the consumer (FAO, 2014).

  • Facility environment: the location of the facility should be a safe environment and the site kept clear of garbage, harbourage for pests and stagnant water
  • Facility layout and design: the design and layout should provide adequate loading and unloading areas protected from rain and pests, and separate storage, processing, packing etc, areas
  • Construction in handling and storage areas:
    • Walls and partitions: smooth surfaces with no flaking paint
    • Windows and vents: easy to clean and designed to prevent pest access
    • Doors: smooth, non-absorbent, easy to clean with self-closing devices to prevent dust and pests entering the facility
    • Drainage systems: these should be of suitable design and construction for the business operations to prevent cross contamination and stagnant foul water. Drains should prevent entry of pests and allow cleaning
    • Temperature control: for products that are temperature sensitive, the temperature during handling and storage should have suitable control and monitoring
    • Ventilation: should be appropriate to control temperature, air quality and humidity and prevent contamination of clean areas. There should be practices to maintain ventilation systems and keep them cleaned
    • Lighting: lighting intensity, whether natural or artificial should be suitable for the operations. Fixtures should be designed for easy cleaning, prevent accumulation of dirt and constructed of shatter proof material to prevent contamination of products with broken parts
    • Power backup: backup power supply should be available to maintain suitable temperature of chilled and frozen foods
  • Equipment: equipment and containers used for handling or processing food should be designed, constructed and located to ensure food safety, enable adequate maintenance, cleaning and good hygienic practices. Maintenance and cleaning procedures should be documented and records kept
  • Staff facilities: there should be adequate facilities for personal hygiene, including toilet and handwashing facilities with soap and hot and cold water of potable quality. Staff may also need changing facilities.
  • Personal health and hygiene: staff should be trained in the use of hygienic practices appropriate for their roles, including handwashing after using the toilet, touching raw food, unclean materials, parts of the body; prevention of cross contamination; and control of personal habits such as spitting, chewing, smoking, eating, wearing ornaments, in places where they could contaminate consumer products
  • Cleaning and hygiene: there should be programmes setting cleaning schedules, responsibilities, methods, equipment, and materials suitable for use on premises handling food; and facilities for appropriate storage of chemicals used, to prevent contamination of raw and prepared food and packaged products
  • Water quality: the water that is used for food production, cleaning and in staff facilities should be of potable quality
  • Waste management: procedures, facilities and suitable equipment should be in place to ensure safe collection, storage and disposal of waste. This should include maintenance of cleanliness in waste storage areas, prevention of cross contamination of food and non-food products and prevention of pests
  • Pest control: pest control measures should include monitoring, identifying, controlling and documenting of pest infestations and measures carried out. These activities should be done by trained personnel
  • Transport: vehicles and containers used for transporting food and non-food products should be suitable for the purpose, kept in good condition, clean and free of pests. Transport systems should prevent cross contamination of food products from containers and non-food items and maintain suitable conditions such as temperature and humidity, that are appropriate for the products
  • Training: training in food safety principles and practices should be provided for all employees according to their roles

Warehouses and distribution centres

Fresh food-GLO-Fresh

Food safety procedures include:

  • Bays: loading and unloading bays should be covered
  • Handling of products: products should be handled appropriately during loading, unloading and stacking so that packaging is not damaged and product safety compromised
  • Layout: the layout for food and non-food item storage areas should be clearly demarcated and hazardous substances separated from food
  • Drains: there should be no open drains inside the storage and operation area
  • Temperature: correct temperature should be maintained for products such as dairy, frozen and chilled products and confectionary. The temperature should be monitored at regular intervals and recorded
  • Dust: storage racks and products should be kept free from dust and products protected by packaging
  • Forklift trucks: there should be specified areas for parking, charging, repairing. Contamination of floors and products with grease or oil should be prevented by suitable maintenance
  • Staff behaviour: warehouse staff should maintain hygienic practices in the product storage and working areas: no eating, drinking, smoking, spitting, climbing on or sitting on packages, or opening of packages (theft)
  • Control of shelf life: products should be accepted and sent to the stores following accepted practices, such as first-in-first-out, so that product quality for the consumer is maintained
  • Damaged and expired stock: these items should be separated and stored in designated areas and clearly labelled. There should be appropriate procedures to ensure items are sent for disposal regularly and records maintained

HACCP for food retail

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.

  • Unlike a factory production line, there is a large variation of production techniques, products, menu items and ingredients and changes occur frequently
  • Also there is often high turnover of staff, which results in employees having less experience of food safety and training being required more often (Food and Drug Administration, 2013)

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).

Food safety hazards

  • Biological agents:
    • Bacteria and their toxins
    • Viruses
    • Parasites
  • Physical objects:
    • Bone and metal fragments
    • Packaging materials
    • Wound dressings — bandages, plasters
    • Jewellery
    • Stones
    • Pests: flies, mice, ants, etc and their body parts
    • Glass
  • Chemical contaminants:
    • Plant and animal toxins
    • Unlabelled allergens
    • Cleaning compounds
    • Food additives
    • Pesticides

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:

  • Food from unsafe sources
  • Inadequate cooking
  • Improper holding temperatures
  • Contaminated equipment
  • Poor personal hygiene

Cross contamination

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:

  • No bare hand-contact with ready-to-eat foods to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Proper handwashing to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Restriction or exclusion of ill employees to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Prevention of cross-contamination of ready-to-eat food or clean and sanitised food-contact surfaces with soiled cutting boards, utensils, aprons, etc., or raw animal foods

Dangerous microorganisms that are common hazards and can be transferred to foods by cross-contamination include:

  • Campylobacter jejuni: found in poultry, raw milk
  • E. coli O157:H7 (other shiga toxin-producing E. coli): found in raw ground beef, raw seed sprouts, raw milk, unpasteurized juice. Contamination can also occur by infected food workers via the faecal-oral route
  • Listeria monocytogenes: raw meat and poultry, fresh soft cheese, paté, smoked seafood, deli meats, deli salads
  • Vibrio spp: seafood, shellfish

Food-borne Illnesses

Food-borne Illnesses

7 principles of HACCP

  1. Perform a hazard analysis: define the operation steps required to prepare the food, eg receiving, storage, preparation, cooking, chilling. Determine the control measures to prevent and control food hazards
  2. Decide the critical control points (CCPs) that are essential for eliminating hazards
  3. Determine critical limits ie measurable and observable parameter
  4. Establish procedures to monitor CCPs. Make direct observations and measurements of CCPs
  5. Establish corrective actions to prevent the process from causing critical limits to be reached
  6. Establish verification procedures to ensure the HACCP process is performing as planned by observing activities, calibrating equipment, review records and discuss procedures with employees
  7. Establish a record keeping system for the HACCP plan and for the associated activities, including monitoring, corrective action, calibration etc

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 ‘Process Approach’

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.

danger zone

The passage of food through the temperature danger zone for three processing categories
(Food and Drug Administration, 2006)

Preventive security measures

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


  • Customers: control access to areas where the public should be restricted and set up monitoring systems to detect unusual activity/ behaviour from the public
  • Visitors: all visitors, including contractors, sales reps, delivery drivers, couriers, pest control technicians, auditors, regulators, press, and tour groups should be identified, verified, monitored and controlled while on the premises


  • Physical security: this includes building construction and design eg doors, windows, vents, and security systems, eg alarm systems, surveillance systems, key management, security patrols, security lighting, parking control
  • Storage and use of toxic chemicals: toxic chemicals used for cleaning, sanitising and pest control should be stored securely and in safe areas, labelled properly and monitored for safe use and misuse


  • 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.

Food safety

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