To properly run a meat department in the supermarket, having well maintained equipment is vital when it comes to food safety, as food slicers, meat grinders and other machines may cause serious cuts and amputations when workers operate, perform maintenance, or clean the machines. 

After all, when cleaning one of these machines, workers need to remove protective guards so there can’t be any misfires, such as the food slicer or meat grinder starting up unexpectedly.  

According to OSHA, there were more than 4,000 incidents involving meat slicers that resulted in lost workdays last year. That’s why it has stringent guidelines to follow.  Grocery stores must protect workers by complying with the relevant OSHA standards for Machine Grinding (1910.212), Hand Protection (1910.138) and Control of Hazardous Energy (1910.147).   

“Workers should be given cut-resistant gloves and other appropriate protection if there is a risk that hands will come into contact with blades, and meat slicers should be equipped with appropriate guards and feeding attachments,” OSHA stresses in its guidelines. “Workers should be trained on safe usage, including never using bare hands to push meat, keeping hands away from the back of the blade, and proper cleaning procedures.”  

Retailers must be cognitive to the fact that accidents can occur when changing food, cleaning the machine, or even when the machine is not in use, which is why it’s important that the machines are off, unplugged and the blade is fully retracted or in the “zero” position.   

Sean Sáenz, senior director of meat and seafood operations for Gelson’s Markets, noted that every employee and staff member, before they step foot into the meat department, must go through a very detailed and outlined training on the equipment and machines being used. 

“The first two days are all on safety procedures,” Sáenz said. “Once they go through the videos and the proper handling procedures, they do on-the-job safety training with the department manager, making sure they understand how to utilize everything —from the slicers to the tenderizers to the small table-top grinders and large production grinders and meat saw.”  

As a way to better entice their employees to do things the right way and continue to think about safety, Gelson’s meat supervisors have reward cards for free lunches that they give out to employees who they see taking the proper safety steps.  

“That means wearing the cutting gloves, wearing the proper slip resistant shoes, pulling down the blade guard on the band saw after the area is finished with production,” Sáenz said. “That acknowledgement to the employee shows store management is looking to ensure safety is being followed. It’s all about awareness.”  

Sam Pantano, vice president of national accounts for Hollymatic, a Countryside, Ill.-based manufacturer of meat grinders designed for first grind coarse ground production of whole muscle products in supermarkets, notes the company has always taken user safety as a key factor when developing equipment.   

For instance, the company’s equipment has safety interlock switches installed in areas of potential danger so that power is shut off to a piece of equipment when the area is exposed; has incorporated pusher plates on its saws to ensure operators’ hands stay a safe distance from the blade; has band saws equipped with its defender stopping devices; and offers adjustable heights to its grinders for safe and comfortable working heights.  

In 2022, Hollymatic is introducing an equipment monitoring device called MeatMetrix, a platform designed to help users make better decisions about their equipment. The company will also be utilizing defender stopping devices on some of its newer band saws.  

“New innovations such as things like our incorporated pusher plate and defender series of safety devices has taken safety to new levels,” Pantano said. “In order to continue ensuring operator safety, these items will continue to evolve.”  

The company provides safety training to retailers for the installation of equipment and the employer extends that as new employees come into the mix.  

“Hollymatic has always strived to be on the cutting edge of safety when developing and improving meat processing equipment,” Pantano said.   

Treif USA, based in Shelton, Conn., offers a complete line of dicing, portion-cutting and other machines for retail meat departments. The company’s dicers provide top cutting quality thanks to patented, sensor-based cutting technology, automatic pre-compression system and residual piece optimization—all of which are designed to keep operators safe.  

Treif provides training services to its retail clients to better ensure that the machinery and equipment always operate to their best ability and continuously achieve their performance spectrum in a safe manner.  

Hobart, Troy, Ohio, made sure to design its industrial meat saws to be safe and easy to use. Therefore, both the upper and lower pulleys are completely enclosed and the blade is guarded above and below the cutting zone.   

The equipment also includes a pusher plate to eliminate the need for handling items too close to the blade. And thanks to its integrated pulley system and 3-H.P. motor, Hobart’s meat band saws provide clean, precise cuts with every use. 


Changing things out  

Equipment is constantly improving but obviously, a retailer can’t bring in new things every year.  Pantano recommends things be changed out every 7-10 years, though it depends on the hours of usage and how well things have been maintained.   

For instance, Hollymatic has equipment that has been in the field for more than 15 years. The company can help lower maintenance costs, maximize production output, increase the lifespan of machines and prioritize equipment maintenance tasks and performance.  

Those working in meat departments also must concern themselves with knives. In the United States, knife injuries averaged more than 322,000 ER visits over the last five years, but that’s taking into account all people and not just workers. 

Still, it’s important for employees to understand the proper way to use knives as a poor grip and improper posture can increase the risk of an injury. The main thing to keep in mind is to always slice away from the body and keep the blade away from one’s fingers.  

Additionally, cutting should always be performed on a flat surface, and knives should be stored in a safe place when not in use.  

And if a knife slips, never try to catch it! Someone could grab the sharp side and cut themselves badly.   

Alexander Cozinni, president of CozinniPRIMedge, Elk Grove Village, Ill., which offers grinder blades and sharpening systems for the retail industry, is an expert at keeping things sharp and noted a properly sharpened knife equals increased production, yields and safety.   

Its Ergo Steel II product allows supermarkets to utilize an edge maintenance tool used on the production floor and throughout the day, as a knife edge dulls, the operator can slide the blade through the unique spring-tensioned rods and straighten the edge in a matter of seconds.  

This is being used in more than 2,500 stores in Spain in the meat and fish departments, and the company is looking to garner interest in the products in the United States. 

The company also has a division called Superior Knife, which offers supermarkets sharpening services in the Chicagoland area.   

Ivo Cozinni, CEO of the company, added that CozinniPRIMedge’s knife edging tools take the place of the conventional steel knives, which most people don’t know how to use properly.  

“It’s always safer to use a sharp knife,” he said. “It’s all about the pressure in cutting, which is an ergonomic issue and a safety issue. When you press too much because a knife is dull, that’s when you slip and cut yourself.”