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Food Safety Guide for Supermarkets

Meeting food hygiene regulations, food hygiene legislation, staff training and food hazards

Food Safety Guides » Food Safety Guide for Supermarkets

In the UK, the supermarket landscape has been traditionally dominated by the ‘Big Four’: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s. However, with adjustments to the economic climate in recent years, Aldi has now overtaken Morrison’s and has the fourth-largest market share in the UK.

This sector has a value of nearly £217 billion, so they must get it right when it comes to food hygiene. Although a lot of the products that supermarkets sell are pre-packaged, supermarkets also sell many fresh foods including meat, fish, dairy products, baked goods, fruit and vegetables. Given that the majority of people buy nearly all their food from supermarkets, food hygiene and safety must be a top priority.

All supermarkets are inspected by the Local Authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) for the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. If a supermarket’s hygiene practices are falling short of what’s expected, its food hygiene rating will reflect this. The rating must be displayed publicly within the store and, as such, a poor score can have disastrous consequences that can impact the supermarket’s customers, takings and profits.

Good personal hygiene, correct temperature control, effective cleaning and sanitation, avoiding cross-contact and cross-contamination, and avoiding pests are essential. If these food safety measures are not taken seriously, there can be serious consequences for both customers and the business, including serious illness and legal ramifications.

This Food Hygiene Guide for Supermarkets will provide advice on how to achieve excellent food hygiene and safety standards in a supermarket as well as highlight why it is of the utmost importance when running a successful supermarket.

Food hygiene and safety legislation to follow for supermarkets

All food businesses in the UK, including supermarkets, must follow strict food safety legislation to ensure that customers are safe when buying and subsequently consuming the supermarket’s products.

In the UK, several laws protect consumers:

  • The Food Safety Act 1990 This Act provides a framework for all supermarkets and other food and drink establishments to follow. The Act ensures that supermarkets do not put anything in food, remove anything from food, or treat food in ways that would mean it could be damaging to the health of those eating it. It also ensures that supermarkets sell food that is of the substance, nature and quality that customers should expect and that food is labelled, presented and advertised in a way that is not misleading or false.
  • The Food Standards Act 1999 – This Act establishes the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as the body that oversees food safety laws and legislation in the UK. Its main goal is to protect public health when it comes to food and gives the FSA the power to act in the consumers’ best interests during all stages of food production, processing and supply.
  • The Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations:
    The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013
    – The Food Hygiene Regulations (Scotland) 2006
    – The Food Hygiene Regulations (Wales) 2006
    – The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006
  • The Food Information Regulations 2014
    – These regulations stipulate that businesses must provide allergen information if a food contains any of the 14 listed allergens.
    – These were amended by the Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019 to include Natasha’s Law.
shopping trolley
Shopping basket
Shopping bag

Natasha’s Law

Natasha’s Law came into force on 1 October 2021. This law is the legacy left following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a baguette from Pret a Manger.

Natasha died after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette that she bought from Pret at Heathrow Airport in July 2016. On her flight, she began to feel ill and suffered a cardiac arrest. The baguette contained sesame baked into the dough which caused her body to go into anaphylactic shock. Despite her father administering two EpiPen injections, Natasha died the same day. Sesame was not listed as an ingredient on the packaging.

Before Natasha’s Law came into force, food establishments such as supermarkets did not need to label food with allergens if they were made on the premises. These foods are called prepacked for direct sale, or PPDS. They can be made and packaged at the same place it is sold or offered and placed in the packaging ready for sale. It includes foods from display units or fridges (as is the case with Pret a Manger) as well as other products from behind the counter or sold at temporary and mobile outlets. It’s important to note that this law relates to packaged foods only. If food isn’t packaged, it doesn’t require labelling but the allergen information must still be readily available to the consumer.

Some examples of PPDS food in a supermarket include:

  • Bakery goods or sandwiches which are made and packaged on-site before a customer orders or selects them.
  • Fast food that has been packaged before it is ordered. This includes products such as doughnuts, sausage rolls, pies, pasties, and hot cooked foods served on deli counters such as rotisserie chicken items, potato wedges or pizzas.
  • Cookie samples that are freely distributed as sample products but which were previously packaged on-site.
  • Products that are packaged ready for sale such as pasta pots, salads and other delicatessen items such as onion bhajis, pakoras etc.

 

Labelling must include:

  • The name of the food item.
  • The ingredients list.
  • Any of the 14 allergens required by law listed and emphasised.

What happens if the legislation is not followed?

If a supermarket does not follow food safety legislation it can cause illness, harm and even death for its customers. There are also legal consequences regardless of this. These consequences include closure orders, fines and even imprisonment for those responsible for breaches of food safety laws.

In 2016 and 2017, supermarket giant Tesco sold out-of-date foods to its customers. This resulted in legal action being taken as a result of a staggering 22 breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations being admitted in 2021.

The evidence of the breaches included:

  • Food products such as doughballs, pizza, soup, pork belly slices, trifle, flavoured milk and potato salad were between one and 17 days out of date at one store in April 2016.
  • Quiche Lorraine, Scotch eggs, Little Dish children’s ready meals, pasta Bolognese and chicken and veg risotto were amongst 25 out-of-date items in another store in June 2017.
  • Grapes and strawberries, falafel and humous wraps, and berry medley pots on display were past their ‘use by’ date at a third store, with visible mould on the grapes.

 

Tesco was subsequently fined £7.56 million, which also served to warn other supermarket chains of the penalties involved in breaching such legislation.

Aside from legal action, the supermarket will suffer in other ways:

  • Reputational damage
    A supermarket like the Tesco stores in Birmingham will suffer from negative publicity as a result of any legal action or word of mouth due to breaches in food safety legislation. This can impact the trust that customers have in the affected stores as well as in the supermarket chain as a whole.
  • Loss of customers
    As a result of reputational damage or due to a poor food safety rating, customers may avoid a supermarket like Tesco. This will lead to reduced profitability which can have devastating financial consequences for a business.
  • Increased scrutiny
    If a supermarket has previously breached food safety legislation, it may be subject to increased scrutiny from the authorities. This will likely mean additional audits and inspections.
  • Loss of licences
    Depending on the severity of the violations, a supermarket may lose its licence to operate. This is a devastating outcome for a business which can lead to its complete closure.
Supermarket staff after training

Staff training on food hygiene for supermarkets

Staff training on food hygiene in supermarkets is a legal requirement. By law, all supermarkets must ensure that those who prepare, handle and sell food are trained and supervised in food hygiene. This does not mean that every single member of staff in a supermarket has to complete a food hygiene certificate, but having food hygiene and safety training and certification is an excellent way of showing EHOs and customers that the supermarket takes food hygiene seriously. Food hygiene and safety certification also provides evidence of due diligence within the supermarket should there later be a reported breach.

Supermarket staff should have food hygiene training that is appropriate for the area in which they work and their tasks as well as their level of responsibility.

It should include training on:

1.Personal hygiene
All staff should have appropriate training on personal hygiene including the importance of handwashing, not working when ill and covering any cuts and wounds.

2.Storing ingredients
If the supermarket has areas where food is prepared on-site such as delicatessen, bakery, meat or fish counters, the staff in these areas should have more specific training regarding the storing of the necessary ingredients.

3.Safe preparation of food on the premises
As above, those preparing food for sale within the supermarket such as a butcher, fishmonger, bakery assistant, or rotisserie or delicatessen worker, must have a good understanding of how to prepare their food items safely within the supermarket.

4.Cleaning and sanitising appropriate areas including preparation areas, display areas, fridges and freezers, checkouts and till areas.
Whilst many supermarkets employ cleaners, it’s important that all workers, particularly those who work in specific areas that need cleaning regularly (such as butcher or meat counters), understand and can clean those areas effectively.

5.Managing food safety
All supermarket workers should have a basic understanding of how to manage food safety. However, this essential part of food safety training should be an essential part of training for those in specific supermarket departments as mentioned above. Managing raw meat safely will have more specific safety rules in comparison with someone who stacks dry goods on shelves.

There are different levels of food safety and hygiene certification:

  • Level 1
    Level 1 is an introduction to food hygiene practices. This training is typically for those who handle low-risk foods such as foods that are already in packaging or already pre-prepared on-site. This level of certification is useful for those working on checkouts in supermarkets who are simply scanning pre-packaged foods.
  • Level 2
    Level 2 is a basic food hygiene certificate. This is a good choice of certification for staff who prepare, bake and handle baked goods in a supermarket bakery. This level of certification would also be required in other departments that handle foods such as on a delicatessen counter, or a fish or meat counter. Most of these workers will need Level 2 certification, particularly those who work in the preparation areas or who package up prepared goods.
  • Level 3
    Level 3 is classed as an intermediate food hygiene certificate. This is for those who have significant responsibilities within the supermarket such as the owner, manager and supervisors as well as those involved in food safety management and HACCP systems.

 

Whilst this initial training is important, supermarket workers should also ensure that they refresh their food safety and hygiene training every couple of years or so, especially if there have been any changes to the legislation, as with Natasha’s Law.

Potential chemical hazards from pesticides

Food hazards

For most of us, food hazards are something that we have some awareness of in our day-to-day lives. However, the level of awareness of food hazards needed is different when you are working in a supermarket. The FSA describes a food hazard as “something that could make food unsafe or unfit to eat”. The hazards can either be biological, chemical, physical or allergenic. In a supermarket that sells a multitude of goods across a range of departments, there are potential food hazards everywhere.

Biological

Biological food hazards are microorganisms or other living organisms. Some microorganisms can cause disease or illness in humans if they are consumed through contaminated food.

The most common biological hazards in food include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.

  • Bacteria
    Certain bacteria, such as salmonella,  campylobacter and Escherichia coli (E. coli), can cause food poisoning when they are present in contaminated food.
  • Viruses
    Viruses such as norovirus and hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food and cause gastrointestinal illness.
  • Parasites
    Parasites such as cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma gondii can be found in contaminated food and cause illness in humans.
  • Fungi
    Some types of fungi can produce toxins that contaminate food and cause illness such as Aspergillus flavus which produces the toxin aflatoxin. Aflatoxins are also known to cause liver cancer as it accumulates within the liver. Fungus (often called ‘mould’) is often present in spoiled or out-of-date foods. Moulds produce tiny spores in the air and when they fall onto food, they can grow. Before the mould is visible on food, it will have already been present within the food for a day or two. Mould likes moist and warm conditions and naturally prefers foods with high water content such as fruits, vegetables, salad and bread. On apples, mould can produce a toxin called patulin. What is more, some people are allergic to mould.

Chemical

Chemical food hazards refer to harmful substances that can contaminate food and cause illness or disease when consumed. Chemical food hazard substances can occur naturally in the environment or be added to food either purposefully or accidentally.

Some chemical food hazards include:

  • Pesticides
    Pesticides are chemicals used in farming to control pests and diseases in crops. If used improperly or in excess, they can contaminate food and cause health problems. Pesticides may well be present in certain quantities on fresh produce within a supermarket.
  • Heavy metals
    Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury can contaminate food through soil and water pollution, or from the use of contaminated packaging or equipment.
  • Food additives
    Certain food additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and flavourings can cause adverse reactions in some people, particularly if they are used in excess of what is considered safe. A supermarket usually has little control over food additives within its products as nearly all supermarket products are shipped in ready-made for distribution to customers.
  • Contaminants from packaging
    Chemicals from packaging materials such as plasticisers and bisphenol A (BPA) can migrate into foods and cause health problems.
  • Acrylamide
    Acrylamide is a chemical that forms naturally in some foods such as potatoes and bread during high-temperature cooking methods like frying, roasting or baking, and it has been linked to cancer. Whilst this may not be a huge risk in a supermarket, it is still important for supermarket owners to be aware of it, particularly if they have a hot food counter.

Physical

Physical food hazards refer to foreign objects or materials that may contaminate food during the production process either accidentally or intentionally. These hazards can cause harm to customers such as choking, cuts, and causing damage to teeth.

Physical hazards include:

  • Glass or metal fragments
    These can make their way into food during the production process such as if a glass jar or metal equipment is broken. This is a particular risk in certain supermarket departments such as the bakery department, butcher’s counter, fish counter or delicatessen counter.
  • Stones or dirt
    These hazards can occur if food is not properly washed before preparing it or not properly sorted. Vegetables and salads are common places where these hazards occur in supermarkets.
  • Bone fragments
    Meat and fish products are prone to this physical hazard if they are not properly removed during processing. Supermarkets, particularly larger stores, may butcher their own meat or fillet their own fish within the store. Supermarket workers in these departments should have a greater understanding of the potential physical hazards that could be in their prepared goods.
  • Plastic or rubber materials
    These hazards can be introduced during food packaging or equipment used during processing or handling.
  • Jewellery, hair or nails
    If employees do not follow good food safety practices including good self-hygiene, hairnets, properly fitting clothing and removing jewellery before preparing food, these items can find themselves in the food being prepared.

 

To prevent contamination of physical hazards, supermarkets should always use reputable suppliers for their goods. They should ensure that the suppliers screen their products and are diligent when it comes to food safety. When the supplies arrive, supermarket staff should check the packaging and ensure that it is in good condition and is not dirty or damaged. Once the packaging is opened, supermarket workers should check a sample of the products for any potential hazards such as infestations of pests. Supermarket owners should also inspect machinery and equipment regularly for wear and tear. Regular maintenance should be carried out and any damaged items should be replaced.

Allergenic

Allergenic hazards in food are those which can cause an allergic reaction in people with food allergies. Allergens are typically proteins that are found in certain foods, and when someone with an allergy consumes them, their immune system reacts by releasing histamines and other chemicals that can cause mild to severe symptoms, including anaphylaxis which ultimately can lead to death. Supermarkets are often a huge risk for those with serious allergies due to the range of available products.

Some of the most common allergenic hazards in food include:

  • Peanuts and tree nuts.
  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Eggs.
  • Shellfish.
  • Wheat and gluten.
  • Soy.

 

As mentioned, food safety laws mean that certain allergens must be emphasised and clearly labelled on the packaging and that food establishments like supermarkets must also have allergy information available for customers on the items that they make and sell. Additionally, there must be proper allergen management controls in place. Many supermarkets stock a range of allergen-free foods that are displayed in a particular area of the supermarket.

The 4Cs

Supermarkets must follow the 4Cs of food hygiene to best prevent and avoid food hazards.

The 4Cs are:

Cleaning

According to the Food Standards Agency, a lack of proper cleaning is one of the most common reasons why a food business like a supermarket is prosecuted. Cleaning is essential as it prevents harmful pathogens or cross-contact allergens from spreading, getting where they shouldn’t, and contaminating foods. Cleaning also discourages pests from making a home on the premises.

Supermarkets should have detailed cleaning schedules as well as cleaning procedures that ensure that the different areas of the supermarket are thoroughly cleaned. This includes any food preparation areas, food storage areas, serving counters, shelves and till areas. Additionally, staff facilities such as cloakrooms, staffrooms and toilets should also be properly cleaned.

Many supermarkets use a ‘clean as you go’ cleaning system whereby the staff clean up continually as they work before doing one final clean at the end of the day. In a large supermarket, there is usually a dedicated staff member on hand to clean up any spills immediately.

Cooking

Most large supermarkets have different departments and, in some, they prepare raw ingredients and cook or bake products to sell. Some stores have delicatessen departments, bakeries and even rotisserie counters where they prepare hot foods such as chicken and even sides like potato wedges.

Any baking and cooking, therefore, must be done correctly before food is sold to customers. If a baked or cooked good is undercooked, it can mean that it is not safe to eat and could cause illness such as food poisoning if someone eats it. Foods must be cooked or baked for the correct amount of time at the correct temperature to ensure that any harmful bacteria that are present in the food are killed. Such departments in supermarkets should also follow any food preparation guidelines on packaging (if present) and ensure that it is piping hot during cooking.

Cross-Contamination

Nearly all foodborne illnesses happen as a result of cross-contamination when harmful allergens or pathogens are transferred into food from surfaces, utensils, between foods and from person to food. Cross-contamination of bacteria and viruses often results in what people call ‘food poisoning’. When referring to allergens, the term ‘cross-contact’ is more often used. It only takes a microscopic amount of allergen to cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Aside from pathogens and allergens, cross-contamination can occur with chemicals such as those used in cleaning, especially ones that are sprayed into the air where they can settle on food.

Supermarkets must take cross-contamination and cross-contact extremely seriously. Supermarkets are often such large stores that they have a vast range of products, machinery and equipment, and potentially allergens, all under one rather large roof. In the bakery department, products like flour easily fill the air and drift across surfaces. This can mean that a wheat-free or gluten-free bake suddenly has particles of flour either within it or on its surface. Due to this risk, many supermarket bakeries do not offer products that are deemed allergen-free unless they sell pre-packaged items that were not made on the premises. Other departments such as the meat, fish and delicatessen counters may find that food can become contaminated by shared utensils, being in close proximity to other products, or simply due to a lack of basic hygiene and cleanliness.

Supermarkets should take the risks seriously and should have the following strategies in place:

  • All workers must practise good personal hygiene.
  • There should be separate areas for allergen-free products.
  • Equipment and utensils should be thoroughly cleaned between uses.
  • Food should be stored correctly as per the guidance below.
  • Cleaning should be consistent and cautious, with any spillages cleaned up immediately.
  • Trollies and baskets should be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, paying attention to the trolley or basket handle in particular.

Chilling

All supermarkets have chilled goods such as milk, butter, cheese, cream cakes, yoghurts, juices, meat products and ready-prepared meals. These products must be chilled correctly and remain at safe temperatures whilst on display. Whilst chilling does not kill harmful bacteria, it does slow down their growth, meaning they should not grow to unsafe quantities. When food isn’t chilled properly, it enters the ‘danger zone’. This encourages pathogens to grow and increases the risk of food poisoning.

To ensure the supermarket’s goods are properly chilled, the following should be in place:

  • The fridges must be at 5°C or lower.
  • Any freezers must be at -18°C or lower.
  • There should be separate storage fridges and freezers for food used as ingredients in preparing food that’s freshly prepared on the premises such as rotisserie chickens, pies and breads.
  • The instructions on the packaging of any foods or raw ingredients regarding chilling must be followed.
  • Any spillages in fridges and freezers should be cleaned upon discovery.
  • The supermarket’s owner and staff should ensure that the fridges and freezers are emptied and cleaned regularly of any spoiled or out-of-date foods.
  • Regular maintenance checks should be performed to ensure that all fridges and freezers are working adequately.

Personal hygiene in supermarkets

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many more people became aware of their own personal hygiene, particularly in a supermarket environment. Trolley and basket cleaning facilities remain present in supermarkets, allowing customers to sanitise the trolley or basket before they use it to transport their shopping. Hand sanitiser is also often ready to use.

Whilst supermarkets can continue to put out such items, it’s also important that staff follow certain personal hygiene expectations including washing their hands properly. Regulation 852/2004 of the food safety laws stipulates the importance of having high standards in this regard.

As well as handwashing, personal hygiene includes clothing, hair, jewellery, smoking, habits and illness. If supermarket workers do not take good care of their personal hygiene, the food items can end up contaminated with biological and physical hazards directly or through cross-contamination. Every staff member in a supermarket should be trained in personal hygiene.

This includes:

  • Direction on how to wash hands thoroughly and properly before handling any foods or ingredients as well as washing hands after handling allergens and raw ingredients.
  • Having long hair tied back and secured with a hairnet. This also includes beards. This is particularly important for supermarket workers in particular departments such as on the delicatessen counter, butcher’s counter, fish counter or in the bakery department.
  • Having nails that are short, natural and free from nail varnish.
  • No watches or jewellery should be worn. Many supermarkets make an exception for a plain wedding band.
  • Toiletries used should not be strongly scented, including perfumes.
  • Workers should wear suitable clean and practical clothing. In a supermarket, this is often a particular uniform.
  • Appropriate clean footwear that is slip-resistant, preferably with no laces to prevent trips and falls.
  • Chewing gum, smoking on breaks and touching the hair and face should also be discouraged.

 

When it comes to illness, supermarket workers must report their illness to the manager and not attend work. This is especially important for stomach viruses such as norovirus. A worker should not return to work in the supermarket until 48 hours have passed since they last vomited or had diarrhoea in gastrointestinal illnesses. For cuts and sores, brightly coloured plasters should be used to cover them, even if no infection is present.

Checking food allergens on packaging

Food allergens in supermarkets

A supermarket is a place where many allergens are found. For people with allergies, encountering something that they’re allergic to in a food item can be fatal. For most people, allergies are unpleasant or produce only mild symptoms, but severe allergies cause anaphylaxis. For this reason, many supermarkets stock a range of allergen-free products within their stores.

A food allergy is where the body reacts to a food due to an antibody named Immunoglobulin E (IgE). This antibody can cause a variety of symptoms, usually beginning within two hours of eating the food but often almost immediately. Essentially, the body is treating the allergen as a pathogen – an ‘invader’ – and an immune response happens. This is the allergic reaction. Some people experience hives, itching and swelling of the tongue and/or lips. Others may experience stomach cramps, and an itchy nose or eyes. The most intense reaction is anaphylaxis, where swelling blocks the airway and the blood pressure drops. It is a ‘shock’ reaction to the allergen.

There are 14 allergens that must be listed on packaging and menus by law due to the severity of the reaction that they can cause in some people.

These are:

  • Celery.
  • Cereals containing gluten such as wheat, rye, barley and oats.
  • Crustaceans, such as prawns, crabs and lobsters.
  • Eggs.
  • Fish.
  • Lupin.
  • Milk.
  • Molluscs such as clams, mussels and oysters.
  • Mustard.
  • Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts.
  • Peanuts.
  • Sesame seeds.
  • Soybeans.
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations of more than 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre).

 

In a supermarket, allergen information should be available on the packaging of goods or present on labels if the goods were prepared on-site and pre-packaged for sale (PPDS) as per Natasha’s Law. Such items may include meat products, pies and delicatessen products. Allergen information should also be readily available in documents, folders or posters within the supermarket by law.

When preparing goods on-site or when handling them to distribute to customers, supermarkets should take precautions to ensure products with allergens are handled properly to avoid cross-contact.

This includes:

  • Ensuring that allergenic hazards are included in HACCP systems and controls are put in place.
  • Providing training on allergens for staff, including what to do in emergencies if a customer has an allergic reaction.
  • Looking for allergenic ingredients on purchased products before using or supplying them (i.e. Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies which is a type of fish).
  • Preparing products containing allergens in a separate area from non-allergenic products.
  • Storing allergen-containing products separately from non-allergen-containing products.
  • Cleaning surfaces and utensils thoroughly between uses where separate equipment is not possible.
  • Labelling containers with any allergens stored within them.
  • Recording information regarding allergens accurately, including on-shelf labels or ingredient labels and recipes.

 

Unlike pathogens such as bacteria, allergens are not affected by heating or cooling. As a result, bakeries should be extra careful when handling any allergens and proceed with caution if a customer reports an allergy. Many supermarket departments that prepare fresh food state that they handle all 14 allergens on the premises and cannot guarantee that their products are free from certain allergens to be on the safe side.

Supermarket workers ensuring food is stored safely

Safely storing food in the supermarket

Food should be stored correctly in a supermarket to maintain the quality of the goods as well as prevent any foodborne illnesses.

There must be stringent systems in place when it comes to storage, including:

  • Storing food at the right temperature. Refrigerators should be kept at or below 5°C and frozen food at or below -18°C. Some supermarkets keep items warm so they are ready to eat. To keep hot food hot, it should be at or above 63°C.
  • The temperature of the fridges and freezers should be checked regularly to ensure that they are working correctly.
  • Storage containers should be food-safe and should be labelled with the name of the food and the date it was stored as well as labelling any allergens within it to ensure proper and safe storage.
  • Food should be stored in clean, dry and well-ventilated areas to prevent the growth of bacteria and mould.
  • Advice for specific food storage should be followed. For example, potatoes, tomatoes and bananas should not be stored in the fridge.
  • Rotate food regularly to ensure that older food is used up first. Have a system with first-in-first-out (FIFO) stock rotation.
  • Dispose of any spoiled or out-of-date food promptly.

Hot holding

Some supermarkets may keep food such as pies and pasties in heated units on display in their delicatessen or hot food counter departments. This provides an opportunity for bacteria to grow if the temperature is not correct. As mentioned in the list above, hot food should be kept at 63°C or above to prevent this from occurring. If it is kept below this temperature for over two hours, it cannot be safely consumed.

By following these safe storage rules, supermarkets can meet the necessary food safety legislation to prevent their customers from coming to any harm.

Safely serving food in supermarket

Safely serving food in a supermarket

In a supermarket, delicatessen items, hot food items or baked goods are sometimes on display on counters and are chosen by the customer before being packaged for sale. Items mustn’t be contaminated during handling and packaging. Utensils should be used to handle food, if possible, rather than hands. If using tongs, they should be cleaned regularly, preferably between uses if they are used for handling different items that may contain allergens. If utensils are not used, the staff should wear disposable gloves. The staff handling the food should be trained in the importance of good personal hygiene.

Bins allocated to different waste types

Waste management in a supermarket

Supermarkets produce substantial waste including food waste and packaging waste. Handling the waste effectively in a supermarket is essential as, if it is poorly managed, it can result in problems with pests. Waste also increases the presence of bacteria and viruses. Food that is not disposed of correctly can also rot, which will increase the risks of pests as well as cause an unpleasant aroma for customers or nearby businesses.

Waste in supermarkets should be separated into appropriate containers.

Waste management in a supermarket should include the following principles:

  • Removing waste regularly from food areas to avoid accumulation.
  • A good number of bins that are accessible inside the supermarket and also outside.
  • Bins allocated to different waste types including food and recycling.
  • Bins operated by foot pedals to avoid touching them by hand.
  • Lidded bins that are secure to avoid pests having access to the contents.
  • Cleaning bins regularly and using suitable bin liners.
  • Regular emptying of bins.
  • Locking outdoor bins when not in use.
Pigeons

Pest control

According to Rentokil, the  top 5 pests in supermarkets are:

  • Rodents
    In a supermarket, rodents can damage the building, fixtures and fittings, electrical equipment and machinery. They can also damage food containers and packaging, eat food on display or in storage, contaminate food, equipment and machinery with their droppings and urine, and transmit diseases such as toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, salmonella, leptospirosis and rat-bite fever.
  • Cockroaches
    Cockroaches are a particular problem in food businesses as they can hide in tiny spaces, are not too fussy about what they eat and can reproduce rapidly. Cockroaches can spread allergens and diseases such as salmonella, listeria, staphylococcus and E. coli. Their droppings and other secretions stain as well as leave a foul odour that can permeate food packaging. Significant cockroach outbreaks can also trigger asthma attacks in asthma sufferers.
  • Stored product insects (SPIs)
    Stored product insects cover all kinds of beetles, moths, mites and weevils that can infest stored food. In a supermarket, SPIs are more likely to arrive in the store amongst a contaminated delivery. They feed on the stored product and contaminate it with their faeces and cocoons and by introducing microorganisms that cause further degradation in the product.
  • Birds
    Whilst not often seen within a supermarket, birds can still be a troublesome pest. Supermarket warehouses are often large, cool spaces and many birds take roost in the structure such as under the roof or in a corner of the warehouse ceiling. The fact there is an endless nearby source of food is also very tempting for many bird species. The most common birds that are considered pests include pigeons, starlings, some gull species and house sparrows. Birds can cause physical damage to buildings and can block guttering with their nests and feathers too. Aside from this, they produce hefty droppings that land on buildings, supermarket vehicles, entrances and outdoor paved areas. If inside the building, their droppings, feathers and nesting material can also contaminate products on display, surfaces and food preparation areas. Aside from being unsightly, the droppings can also contain pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.
  • Flies
    Flies are common insects, particularly in the summer months, and a supermarket is no exception to this. Many fly species are attracted to the sights and smells present in the supermarket environment. Flies can carry more than 100 pathogens that cause disease, including E. coli and salmonella.
    One of the biggest risks with flies is that they can contaminate food products that can cause illnesses in the supermarket’s customers. Rentokil states that around 9 days of work are lost each year due to a fly infestation!

 

Preventing infestations of pests in a supermarket is essential to the good running of the business as well as complying with the law.

Supermarkets should prevent and control pests by:

  • Keeping the supermarket clean and tidy. This includes cleaning the floors, walls and counters. Food spills should be cleaned promptly.
  • Disposing of waste correctly, particularly food waste as this is what attracts pests the most. Bins should be tightly sealed.
  • Storing food correctly in tightly sealed containers or units. Containers should not be on the floor to prevent pests from entering them. When a food delivery arrives, the contents should be inspected carefully to make sure no pests are being introduced to the supermarket.
  • Sealing any pest entry points such as cracks and gaps around windows, pipes, doors and floor. This will help to prevent pests from entering the supermarket.
  • Using products if pests are suspected to catch and/or eliminate them.
  • Hiring professionals to clear any pest infestations so that the job is done properly.
  • Training the staff who work in the supermarket to promote the importance of good practices within the supermarket and how to prevent pests.

 

By following such tips, the supermarket and its customers can be sure to be as safe as possible.