SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Retailers may be required to upgrade refrigerated display cases as state legislatures begin to adopt food temperature standards and codes.
The Food and Drug Administration's Food Code, comprising wide-ranging new regulations, is expected to be adopted by many states in the next year, according to analysts and retailers gathered here last month for the Food Marketing Institute's Energy and Technical Services Conference. Rhode Island has already begun enforcing parts of the code, analysts and retailers said.
One section of the code calls for reducing minimum product temperature from the current 45 degrees to 41 degrees for all meat, dairy, deli, fish, poultry and cut produce.
Many older refrigerated systems, designed to maintain a 45-degree environment, may not be capable of meeting the new, lower temperature required, presenters said during one session titled, "Impact of New Codes: Will the Cost of Code and Standard Compliance Make Us More Efficient?"
Other challenges retailers face in maintaining low temperatures and avoiding code violations relate to maintenance issues, inefficient light bulbs that generate heat in the case and inaccurate thermometers.
Retailers should consider investing in newer, energy-efficient case equipment and may ultimately need to replace their coolers to avoid being fined by inspectors, said Leonard Micek, director of engineering at King Soopers, Denver.
"If you only see the negative impact [of code enforcement] it's going to be counterproductive for you," he said, adding that a retailer could use code compliance as a driver to move to more energy-efficient equipment.
"The best strategy may be to invest in the most energy-efficient technology available," Micek added.
Complying with the new temperature standard isn't as simple as turning down the temperature, noted Richard McCollum, vice president of engineering and research for Hussman Corp., Bridgeton, Mo., who spoke during the presentation.
He warned retailers to closely monitor meat, dairy and deli display cases since their exposed design makes it particularly difficult to maintain consistent temperatures. He also noted that government inspectors tend to target those areas most frequently.
Installing a system to monitor case temperatures electronically "will go a long way in dealing with local health officials," he added.
Regular case maintenance and the use of T-8 lightbulbs, which produce a lower amount of heat than traditional lamps, will further enhance a retailer's ability to maintain his case temperatures.