When you want to grab a quick dinner, where do you go? An increasing number of Americans go to their local supermarket, not to a restaurant, to buy fresh prepared food to take home. This is a profitable business for grocery and big-box stores, but also leads to problems: serving ready-to-eat food means that they risk serving ready-to-eat pathogens, too.
Earlier this year, one of the plants where Whole Foods prepares some of its ready-to-eat items for stores received a warning letter and a 15-day deadline to make significant changes. The Wall Street Journal learned that the plant temporarily closed, then re-opened without any uncooked meat, poultry, or seafood handled anywhere in the facility.
Costco has had to deal with outbreaks of Salmonella linked to its cooked rotisserie chickens and E. coli linked to celery used in its prepared chicken salad.
““Our stores have become mini restaurants and pubs,” the manager of food safety for northeastern grocery chain Wegmans, a chain that pioneered this kind of thing and now has its own food courts full of restaurants and wine soda fountains in its stores. “Prior to that, we basically sliced cold cuts and made a few salads.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that foodborne illness outbreaks linked to grocery store meals doubled from 2014 to 2015, as the prepared food trend became even more popular.
One obvious solution is to better train grocery store employees in food safety, but that means ensuring that everyone has received the training in what can be a high-turnover business.
Grocers Tackle New Food-Safety Issues as Tastes Grow for Prepared Meals [Wall Street Journal]