NORRISTOWN, Pa. -- Genuardi's Family Markets here inaugurated a new food-safety initiative with the implementation of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program in every one of its seafood departments, the first category in the company to adopt such protocols.
The retailer joins a growing number of supermarket chains who are installing such plans in select perishables areas, in anticipation of an eventual mandate by federal public-health agencies. Genuardi's decided to implement a voluntary program as a proactive measure, rather than wait for the official order, according to Genuardi's officials.
"Things started out slowly, but every single one of our stores is in compliance [with HACCP] now and we're very pleased with the outcome," said Bill Yee, manager of environmental control and safety for Genuardi's.
Genuardi's introduced an HACCP prototype in October 1999 at two Pennsylvania store locations -- St. David and Kimberton. The retailer first identified certain points along the food-service chain that were critical to safety and then developed a store-level plan to maintain and monitor those standards at each juncture.
Next, seafood employees, from managers to cutters, were trained on how to properly execute and maintain the safety program. All full-time and part-time department workers became efficient in every aspect of HACCP and began using their knowledge as the program was slowly rolled out to all 34 stores beginning in May 2000.
Meat department workers were also trained in HACCP procedures, said Lee, since the associates in each department are somewhat interchangeable in many Genuardi's stores, with employees from each staff often filling in for one another. But all department members, from management on down, were instructed in the same class and given the same knowledge and information.
"We wanted every person in the department to know everything about HACCP and to get the same message, so that they all felt equal in their roles and in their involvement in its implementation," said Yee. "And this way, there is no way to avoid or hand off certain assignments based on not knowing how to do it, because everyone can."
According to Yee, Genuardi's based its HACCP system on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's draft retail program, and has applied the principles outlined in that document.
At store level, the company's food-safety program requires trained employees to check on various product temperatures at different points along the service chain, several times a day. Varying from item to item, workers monitor the temperature of every seafood product received at the store upon its arrival using a laser thermometer. Anything found to be above 41 degrees Fahrenheit is then double-checked with a calibrated dial thermometer, and then dealt with accordingly.
Data from all of the program's checkpoints is currently kept manually, with numbers written down by hand and kept in binders at specific locations in the store where the critical control point resides. However, Yee said that the retailer hopes to be using Digital Check, a handheld computerized temperature gauge, in some stores by the end of January, which would allow all temperature readings to be downloaded instantly from the unit to a main database, eliminating a few of the process steps.
Technological advancements in the HACCP program such as Digital Check could help ease some of the initial difficulties that Genuardi's has encountered in implementing the system. According to Yee, some employees were dreading the additional paperwork accompanying the program, but were pleased to find that it wasn't as bad as they feared.
"It's really just a matter of them documenting some things that they've already been doing and few new things," said Yee. "Once they got into it and got the hang of it, it became almost second nature."
Another issue confronting the program was the continual training of future employees. According to Yee, newly hired seafood or meat workers are first instructed by their managers and fellow employees on HACCP policies, and then formally trained though the same class that the current staff was given, which will be run on a quarterly basis.
Genuardi's has trained approximately 680 seafood and meat department staff members on how to maintain fresh and safe product through HACCP, and the company hopes to have all of its departments in all of its stores operating under the HACCP program by 2002.
"As effective and essentially simple as HACCP seems to be, we don't see any reason why our entire food-service business couldn't be run safely using it," said Yee.
To keep consumers abreast of the new safety initiative, Genuardi's is advertising the HACCP program in its weekly fliers, and some stores are posting signage in the seafood departments touting the positive impact it is having. In-store fliers are being circulated at some locations, and all of the trained employees are encouraged to talk to shoppers about the program and field any queations they may have.