KANSAS CITY - Providing safe and fresh food is the goal in the fresh perimeter and throughout the grocery store. And one of the top ways of achieving that goal in the instore deli is using the right equipment.  

Conyers, Ga.-based Dover Food Retail, a manufacturer of refrigerated, frozen, hot and dry display cases, including service and self-service display cases, helps delis create the best image and presentation of their products being displayed, said Marjorie Proctor, Dover marketing and design specialist

Dover specializes in equipment that maximizes foods’ visual appeal while keeping product at its freshest state to ensure the highest food safety standards are met.

Proctor said there are several things all employees should be educated about when merchandising and working in the deli or any department of the store.

“Ensure refrigerated cases are holding proper temperatures: make sure your deli team is regularly checking and recording case temperatures throughout the day,” she said. “Any issues related to refrigerated or hot cases should be reported immediately for repair.  When it comes to protecting customers from foodborne illness, one of the most effective tools is a thermometer.”

Instore delis must also make sure that hot food displays are holding temperatures and the right type of packaging is being used to merchandise hot foods. 

“Understand the type of packaging designed specifically for hot foods applications and don’t assume all packaging can be used in hot and cold applications,” Proctor said.

Merchandising and load lines have their own set of “musts,” Proctor said: 

  • Food merchandised outside the load line will disrupt the air curtain of the case and cold air will spill outside the case and into the aisle making the case work twice as hard to refrigerate.
  • Avoid over packing of product in a display case, setting product on the air return, or blocking the air discharge as this can cause product to not be kept at proper temperatures and lead to display case service calls. Air must circulate around these products to keep them properly chilled.
  • Maintain approximately 1 inch between the bottom of a shelf and the product merchandised below it; this a minimum distance is necessary to provide a gap for air to flow over the product on each shelf to keep product to temperature.
  • Overpacking when merchandising a service case will make it very difficult to adhere to the rule:  first in first out which could cause concern with rotating of product and food safety.

“Smart” makes the difference

Two and a half years ago, Dayton, Ohio-based Globe Food Equipment introduced its first completely new slicer redesign in decades.

Now the company believes it’s well-positioned to reassert itself in the supermarket perimeter space, particularly when it comes to the instore deli. And Todd Clem, Globe’s director of project management, believes that food safety is one of the top draws of the S series, which comes in four basic models.

The S series slicers have a clear text graphic display on the front which tells users with ease all that’s happening with the slicer at that point in time — an attribute that’s unique in the industry, Clem said. (Other slicers have number codes that require interpretation.)

S series slicers also keep a complete record of everything that’s done on the slicer, and when.

“How many slices were in manual, how many automatic, automatic first, second or third, stroke length, etc.,” Clem said. “It records everything internally. How long has it been since the machine was unplugged?”

That record-keeping capacity, Clem said, is critical to guaranteeing the highest food safety standards are met in the instore deli.

For instance, HAACP regulations require that slicers be turned off and cleaned every four hours. With the S series, there’s no way for users to fudge the data — the slicer would tell an inspector exactly when the slicer was turned off and for how long.

Brand new to the S series is a feature that takes food safety one step further, Clem said.

A new cleaning timer lets users know when it’s time to turn the slicer off to clean it. At three hours and thirty minutes, users receive an alert. The message stays on the display until the slicer is turned off. Another alert follows at the three hours and forty-five minutes mark.

Then, when the full hours is reached, the slicer shuts itself off and users are forced to unplug it. That’s not a guarantee that the cleaner will then be cleaned, but it certainly makes it much harder for users to avoid doing so, Clem said.

“It doesn’t force you to clean it, but surely if you have to do that, you’re going to clean it,” he said. “We think it will be huge in the supermarket industry.”

Another advantage the S series has, Clem said, is its ability to link to the Powerhouse software package, a product of Globe’s parent company, Middleby.

Globe’s current top customer is the Arby’s fast-food chain. Using Powerhouse, Arby’s knows how many roasts are being held at any given time in all of its restaurants. It also knows the exact temperature in its stores, because Powerhouse ties into the HVAC system.

With Powerhouse, instore operators could keep a laser focus on their yields, know how many slices are made in a given day. And the closer track you can keep of that, the better chance of meeting your food safety goals.

“We think it’s a huge advantage in terms of maintenance,” Clem said.

The right cases for the right products

It’s crucial, Proctor said, to pick the right type of case for the products being merchandised. For example, meal kits are composed of raw meat products.  Meat should be kept at meat temperatures to ensure a safe product.  Merchandising meal kits with raw meat product in deli temperatures could shorten the life of the products and affect the taste of the product by increasing the purge rate of the fresh meat.  

“Know what product temperatures are recommended for each of the products being merchandised,” she said.

Food safety in general is more critical today than it has ever been, Proctor said.  Shoppers want to know where products come from and how they’re handled, and they expect to find the freshest foods possible in their supermarket.  At Dover Food Retail, food safety ranks at the top of the company’s priority list. 

“Our equipment is designed to meet the regulatory standards from UL and NSF,” Proctor said. “And we work closely with merchandising experts in the supermarket industry to ensure our display cases are designed and engineered for merchandising flexibility, ease of maintaining proper case temperatures, load line compliance, and ease of cleaning and sanitizing.”

 COVID has only intensified this emphasis on food safety, Proctor said. Food retailers quickly implemented plans and manufacturers stepped to the plate to assist them in this ever-changing environment. Dover identified the types of cases that undoubtedly had been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak as shopping behaviors changed to accommodate for a safer food environment. 

In the deli, for example, food bars were profoundly affected, Proctor said. Dover was able to quickly put together ideas to help retailers reimagine merchandising strategies by offering several alternatives that helped retailers keep both their hot and cold food bars in service.  

“We have also seen an increase in the request for inline service made-to-order salad/sandwich prep counters and for convertible sneeze-guards.”

Dover firmly believes that many of the COVID-related changes will last after the pandemic has passed, Proctor said. Those will likely include glass or plexiglass shields on top of service cases and dry service counters, more packaged products on island food bars, and an increase of door cases around the perimeter of the store.

“Also, from a food safety standpoint, maybe our moms were right when we were little and they told us, ‘Touch with your eyes, not your hands.’  I still see that saying relevant in today’s food retail landscape during the pandemic and after it’s passed.”

The cast iron advantage

Slicers aren’t the only category where Globe hopes to make inroads into retail. Spiral mixers are another target.

Globe also makes a full lineup of countertop cookers, electric fryers, panini and sandwich grills and other equipment that’s perfect for prepared foods sections of grocery perimeters.

These products, Clem said, have a strong food safety profile because they’re made from some of the thickest cast iron in the industry.

“It takes longer to heat up, but it holds heat the best in the industry,” he said. “If you’re looking to truly fully cook foods, our grills will do that.”

A lot of other equipment used to make food in instore prepared foods departments is made of aluminum, which heats quickly but also cools quickly, often creating a wide variety of heat between platens, which can lead to unevenly cooked food, a food safety risk.

“Some units are 40 to 50 degrees different across platens,” Clem said. “Ours are within a degree or two.”

And on the near horizon for Globe is an imbedded probe for sous vide products that could be cooked in instore prepared foods sections and sold onsite.

Instead of having to puncture a sous vide pouch, with the new Globe product, the thermometer is actually imbedded prior to sealing the product. Throughout the cooking process, the temperature can be monitored from a phone, laptop or other device from anywhere in the store.

“Everybody has had issues with ability to get a signal accurately and consistently out of a vessel,” he said. “The unit we’re testing now, it won’t matter what kind of vessel you put it in, it continuously records what’s going on in the core product, which is huge from a HAACP standpoint.”

Pending regulatory approval, the new sous vide product should be on the market relatively soon.  

Other safety features of the S series include an interlock on the knife cover, which prevents users from turning on a blade that is spinning.

Navigating the regulatory landscape

Few if any areas of the grocery fresh perimeter have been hit harder by COVID than salad and hot bars in the instore deli. Some bars have, however, started to reopen, said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for the Madison, Wis.-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.

But that process has been frustrated by what is often unclear direction from health authorities.

“We’re hearing from retailers that there are a lot of unknowns,” Richard said. “It all comes down to local food codes, and many are waiting to hear from their local authorities.”

Richard has been in touch with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US Food and Drug Administration officials, and later this fall IDDBA expects to host a webinar that will provide retailers with more clarity on navigating what they can and cannot do in the new safety environment created by the pandemic.

“We’re thrilled that both agencies have agreed to do this,” Richard said, adding that it’s more common to get just one of the two agencies on board for a webinar or other educational event.

Whether the instore deli will ever go back to the way it was before COVID, Richard said, is still up for discussion. Online sales of deli items have soared, as they have for most grocery items, and many consumers who picked up their digital shopping pace during the pandemic will continue to buy more online after it’s over.

In the meantime, instore delis need to stick with renewed energy to the things they’ve known forever, Richard said.

“Wash your hands, make sure equipment is properly cleaned, keep surfaces clean to reduce the likelihood of listeria and other foodborne illnesses,” he said. “It holds as true today as it did five years ago when we started putting a focus on it.”

This story was featured in the November issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here for the full issue.