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Title: A shopper's eye view of food safety at retail stores: lessons from photographs taken while grocery shopping

item Luchansky, John
item Porto-Fett, Anna
item CHAPMAN, BENJAMIN - North Carolina State University

Submitted to: Food Protection Trends
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/28/2016
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: The vast majority of food consumed in the U.S. is made either by food service or is sold as meal constituents or ready-to-eat (RTE) meals at retail establishments. What a shopper sees at a retail store, whether an actual risk or not, can influence purchasing decisions and, in some instances, can also lead to a social amplification of risk. Moreover, the food safety culture of a grocery retailer, which would include standard operating procedures, store infrastructure, and employee knowledge, skills, abilities, and practices, can have a significant impact on public health and can appreciably influence the likelihood of food safety risks being properly communicated to shoppers. The purpose of the present study was to periodically collect digital photographs of employee behaviors and store hazards over a 2-year period by shoppers at groceries stores, and to group these visual representations into easy-to-communicate risk messages and teaching tools. A qualitative content analysis grouped the resulting 119 photographs into the following five hazard themes: i) chemical, ii) hygiene, iii) cross-contamination, iv) physical, and v) combination. The results suggest that a keen-eyed shopper could easily identify food safety concerns, provided they had an aptitude and interest in doing so. These photographs captured multiple hazards and risk factors, many of which can be easily corrected provide this information is conveyed to store management and employees, as well as to consumers, in a user-friendly and accurate manner. .

Technical Abstract: Retail grocery stores are the source of over 50% of food sales in the U.S., representing the most important sector for consumer food choices. Food safety-related infrastructure, procedures, and practices at retail grocery stores play an important role in protecting public health. Beyond actual risk of illness, consumer perceptions related to sanitation also lead to purchasing decisions. Using a convenience sample of retail grocery stores, digital photographs (n= 119) were recorded by data collectors trained to identify potential perceived and actual food safety risk situations. Digital photographs were coded using qualitative content analysis techniques. Chemical, physical, and biological hazard situations were identified at the retail establishments visited. Risk factors for foodborne illnesses including poor personal hygiene, cross-contamination, and improper temperature control were also observed. As examples, photographs captured utensils, such as tongs, placed handle-down in containers of uncovered foods, as well as bare-hand contact of ready-to-eat (RTE) deli meat during slicing. The digital photographs provide a set of learning materials that the retail food industry can use as examples of what shoppers may see if they are focused on food safety. Such photographs can also be used as a motivation and as a “real world” teaching tool to better inform and engage a positive food safety culture.