The evolution of today’s supermarket means an increase in food safety protocols that require different types of training for staff, an increased volume and complexity of food handling, cooking methods and holding and serving requirements for a constantly-changing array of food products.

Simply put, there’s much more to keep track of than there was in the past and staying on top of food safety inspections has become that much more difficult.

“The grocery business has evolved quickly,” says David Karel, chief marketing officer for San Francisco-based Zenput, a firm that works with retailers, restaurants and c-stores to optimize operations, including food safety. “Gone are the days when supermarket retailers were selling just raw ingredients, whether they be fresh, packaged or canned. To compete for consumer dollars, increase foot traffic and tap new revenue growth opportunities, they’re providing precooked and prepared food that you and I can take home and serve really easily.”

These changes have led to myriad new challenges, and that’s where companies like Zenput lend their assistance.

“Supermarkets can use our mobile platform to communicate all of the critical processes store employees need to follow, get clear visibility into whether the work is being done properly, and drive the right corrective actions which can be tracked through resolution,” Karel says.

Information, tools

Steritech, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is another company that helps retailers stay on top of their game. The company takes the approach that simply getting ready for inspections isn’t enough. The culture must change first.

“We’re focused on protecting brands by providing information and tools to help them build a maintain a culture of food safety,” says Chris Boyles, vice president of The Steritech Institute. “This goes well beyond preparing supermarkets to pass regulatory inspections and looks at driving consistent, long-term behaviors to mitigate food safety risks.”

Steritech can assess data from assessments to help retailers understand their most frequent issues by risk level, and then provide support in implementing corrective actions. If the issues are skills-based, Steritech can assist supermarket retailers by coaching employees and offering explanations behind food safety standards. When employees are educated on why specific standards are in place, they take more ownership in the process, ultimately, becoming ambassadors for food safety and its impact on the customer dining experience.

“For instance, we teach employees that when cold foods are not kept at 41 degrees or below, bacteria can grow in the food, making customers sick, and potentially causing employees to be out of work while the outbreak is investigated,” Boyles says. “We are also able to help supermarkets identify root causes to food safety issues, implement corrective action plans to ensure issues are resolved, and provide additional food safety training to employees.”

Steritech utilizes its OnBrand360, a proprietary solution to data collection and assessment. The program has two sides, one for the company’s data specialists to capture information during the assessment, and another for retailers to view the collected data.

“On the customer side, we are able to translate this captured information into the data they need to evaluate and chart information that helps them uncover problem areas and drive solutions,” Boyles says. “The system is able to generate a range of reports to help customers understand the data and respond to the insights which can be filtered to different organizational levels such as location manager, area director, or corporate-level.”

Embracing solutions

Utilizing technology that points out your flaws isn’t always the easiest change of pace. There is some pushback, Karel says, but it’s worth it in the end.

“Most chain retailers see the writing on the wall that getting visibility into and control around their operation isn’t going to happen without embracing technology to a greater degree,” he says. “It may be a matter of timing and getting internal alignment on a strategy and the right solution to support it.  But, when they take a step back and realize the future of their grocery business involves fighting for the same consumer dollars that other supermarkets, restaurants and innovative food delivery start-ups also covet, they realize retaining a competitive edge likely means discovering their technological edge.”

Zenput and applications like it are designed to engage and drive rapid adoption, Karel says, making it an ideal fit for the supermarket industry, which employs many workers early in their career journey. Many of these workers just entering the workforce grew up immersed in mobile apps, spending relatively little time in the world of desktops and paper.

“By giving them apps and tools that feel like the ones that they’re using in their consumer lives, they’re naturally attracted to them,
 Karel says. “And, there’s suddenly a cool factor to their jobs.  If a young person in his or her first job can choose a company that gives them cool tech tools to get their jobs done, engagement goes up -- which is exactly what our clients relay is happening when they introduce Zenput.”

That leads into Zenput’s belief that employees who care for their consumers and modern technology don’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas. The right workers can be trained on, and embrace high-end tech that makes the entire operation safer.

“With Zenput, we make it viable and safe to empower the workforce in your stores to be an integral part of how food safety happens,” Karel says. “Broad visibility into progress against key procedures, critical alerts, and issue resolution tracking take the guesswork out of this.   Individual employees aren’t left to make judgement calls as to whether a process needs to be performed, flagged or escalated.  It’s all predefined by company operating standards which are all managed and executed through Zenput.”