Conventional or organic, local or imported — all food has the potential to harbor harmful pathogens. Over the past few years, consumers have gotten an up-close look at massive recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to lettuce, peanut butter, shell eggs and other basic foodstuffs.
What they saw wasn’t pretty, and the combined effect of all these incidents helped increase support for passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The sweeping law gives the Food and Drug Administration new authority to inspect facilities and products, intervene when trouble is detected and order recalls of suspect products.
Another aspect of the law is of particular importance to food retailers, including supermarkets, is the unrelenting emphasis on prevention. To that end, there’s been talk of companies hiring dedicated food safety managers, implementing effective measures to prevent contamination (such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program), and training employees and food workers in a more thorough manner.
Inherent in this shift is the expectation that companies will take more responsibility for their own actions. Some aren’t waiting to tell consumers what they’re doing. Schnuck Markets, the St. Louis-based chain, just opened a new chapter in its ongoing Peace of Mind campaign. The first one was devoted to pricing. Now, it’s all about food safety and quality.
Chain officials feel so strongly about Peace of Mind that it has its own website. Click on the “Philosophy” tab and learn that the retailer has a food safety staff monitoring stores, production facilities and warehouses. “In total, these are some of the factors that led the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) to honor Schnucks with the 2009 Black Pearl award for Food Safety,” the website states.
Other tabs are devoted to Experience and Departments, as well as two that are stlll under development: Flix (presumably videos) and Qualityville (a game like Farmville? The websites only states, “Check back to Watch… Play… Win!”).
The attention on food safety and quality is well-timed, as winter turns to spring, and all sorts of fresh foods start moving back to the top of the shopping list. Plus, concern over food safety is far from forgotten. The breadth and severity of the past recalls make the topic hard to forget. Retailers who get out in front of the issue, like Schnucks, are positioning themselves on a critical point.
Remember, no one in the car business ever wanted to talk about — much less graphically demonstrate — what happened to their cars in an accident. The ads were all happy driving and sunshine. These days, safety is often a deciding factor in which car to actually purchase. The same could be said of how consumers will come to choose their supermarkets.
[Photo credit: Schnuck Markets]