This year, the essential nature of grocery stores has become vividly apparent. Since the beginning of COVID-19, more families are choosing to cook at home. Recent surveys show that 54% of Americans are cooking at home more often and frequenting restaurants less. Downloads for a popular grocery delivery app went up 215% in a single 30-day period this spring, demonstrating a sudden surge in demand for groceries, combined with concern about safety in stores.
How can grocery stores meet this increased demand while complying with CDC and local guidelines for sanitation, social distancing and food safety? These four strategies will help stores stay clean and safe, while serving communities through this public health crisis and beyond.
1. Review and adjust sanitation procedures
Many grocery store owners and managers were required to implement new procedures in rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic, based on evolving direction from public health officials and the CDC. Now that things have settled down a bit, it is a good time to review the current guidelines and make sure the following requirements from the CDC are being met:
● Frequently disinfecting surfaces throughout the day with EPA-registered disinfectants. Disinfected surfaces should include dishware, food prep surfaces, floors, counters, beverage equipment, doorknobs, equipment handles, checkout areas, grocery cart handles and any other high-touch areas.
● Providing hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes for employees and customers.
● Enforcing local mask mandates for customers, as well as providing and requiring masks and appropriate PPE for employees.
● Performing nightly deep cleanings with EPA-approved disinfectants. Frequently touched displays, shelves, refrigerators and freezer units need to be disinfected nightly.
2. Implement expanded food-safety guidelines
Grocery delivery and pickup have become much more popular, therefore requiring careful monitoring of customer orders to maintain proper temperatures. The deli and bakery will need to change serving procedures to incorporate safer alternatives.
New guidelines from the FDA call for:
● Keeping hot and cold foods separate in appropriate transport containers with gel packs and insulated cases to maintain safe temperatures while waiting for pickup or transporting for delivery.
● Eliminating self-serve food stations and product sampling, and offering pre-packaged prepared foods or made-to-order menu items for customers.
● Training grocery pickup and delivery personnel to wash hands and disinfect carts and equipment between each customer, and practice “no touch” deliveries by using texts or phone calls to notify customers that their delivery is ready at their door or vehicle.
3. Train employees in the new procedures
Educating employees and providing training in the new procedures will help stores function smoothly, as well as present a clean, safe and organized image to customers. In addition to normal training regarding food handling and safety, many local communities require documentation that grocery employees are:
● Educated about COVID-19 and following the CDC guidelines listed above regarding hand washing, store sanitation and wearing PPE appropriate for their duties.
● Maintaining hot and cold foods at safe temperatures at all times and logging temperature checks.
● Staying home when they have symptoms, with support from management.
● Assigned appropriate duties based on their level of risk for contracting the virus, with high-risk employees assigned duties which limit their contact with guests.
4. Monitor process compliance and keep detailed records
Keeping detailed documentation and checklists will assist in providing the information grocery stores will need to demonstrate their dedication to the safety of everyone in the store.
Many stores use a monitoring system or even an automated app, which allows them to easily:
● Log food temperature monitoring data, demonstrating safe hot and cold holding temperatures for foods awaiting pickup and delivery.
● Receive real-time notifications if food temperatures rise or fall below the correct temperatures, to help keep foods safe and prevent perishable product loss.
● Manage checklists to document proper cleaning procedures throughout the day.
● Prepare for and pass inspections which are conducted by local health and safety organizations.
● Maintain records of valid return-to-work checklists for employees who were exposed to or contracted the virus or any other serious communicable disease.
● Access historical data and spot trends which might lead to food loss, store crowding, or other potentially unsafe store conditions.
Dedicated to safely feeding America
Grocery stores are becoming a new center for public awareness of health and safety. By raising the level of store sanitation and food handling to new heights, stores can provide a healthy shopping environment and protect one of the most essential resources for customers: wholesome food to feed their families. Grocery retailers, managers and employees deserve daily support and recognition for the hard work and personal risk they undergo to help others during this challenging time.
ComplianceMate™ is an enterprise foods safety management tool. They’ve developed a free app, ComplianceMate C19, to help grocery stores and foodservice businesses manage their efforts to keep guests and employees safe from COVID-19. This app works with or without their HACCP compliance and temperature monitoring systems, providing a cost-effective way to manage checklists and records of hand washing, sanitation, and food safety procedures, which allow businesses to fully document their compliance. The C19 app works on any web-enabled device and can be securely downloaded here.
This post is sponsored by ComplianceMate™