There is little doubt that the ongoing investigation of contaminated food products, whether intended for humans or ani?mals, raises important questions about the safety of our food supply. And your shoppers are concerned.
In a recent consumer poll on www.super?marketguru.com with more than 700 respondents, 24 percent said they considered our food supply "not safe." The good news for retailers, however, is that only 5 percent of the group felt that retailers had the most responsibility to ensure the safety of our foods.
This opens up an opportunity for natural foods retailers to build an even stronger relationship with their shoppers by using this easy-to-follow food safety checklist:
1. Shopping carts are the first sign to a shopper that your store might be a mess inside. Make sure all carts are clean and working properly. Remember that spilled or poorly wrapped beverages, produce and meats that leak into carts can contaminate food.
2. Bathroom cleanliness reflects employ?ee and store practices, as well as management's seriousness about sanitation.
3. Aprons and handling gloves should be mandatory in all service departments, whether your state legislates it or not. It sends a message to shoppers that you are concerned about cleanliness and proper food handling. These should be fresh and changed frequently.
4. Shelves and display cases that have food stains and spills are no-nos. Just think of how unappealing a meat case is with spattered or dried blood on it. Yecch. It's also a sure way to send vegetarians and other sensitive customers to another store.
5. Bulk bins should be either plastic or wooden cases, always with plastic liners. Nuts, grains and other bulk foods can be a breeding ground for insects and rodents.
6. "Sell by" and freshness labels are important to shoppers. Sixty-four percent of shoppers look for them to make sure that labels haven't been altered or covered over.
7. Read your local newspapers. In most cities, unsanitary food establishments that violate local health codes are reported here. Pay attention to the most common infractions, and check your store to ensure you are never listed in this column.
8. Post your health and sanitation inspection records proudly. They send a signal to shoppers that not only is your store clean, but you have nothing to hide.
9. Check out the back of the store. Are your delivery docks clean? Where is the trash bin located? It should be covered and away from the store.
10. The checkout line is the last impression your shoppers have of your store, and it's the one they remember best. Look for spills and food remnants that might contaminate fresh or uncooked items. Make sure the belt and counter are spotless and dry.
Phil Lempert is a national grocery-marketing expert and publishes several newsletters, available at www.supermarket-guru.com.