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Secret Shopper: Grocery Store Employee Food Handling Practices from a Customer’s Perspective

01.aug.05, Lisa Mathiasen, Doug Powell, Food Protection Trends

This research highlights the need for more interactive training specific to individual departments within a supermarket, and will help in the improvement of training resources for grocery store food handlers.

01.aug.05, Lisa Mathiasen, Doug Powell, Food Protection Trends
Food safety is critical along the entire agri-food chain, but it should be emphasized particularly in grocery stores because this may be the last opportunity to prevent food from becoming contaminated before it is purchased. The responsibility for safe food handling has increased for the newer North American supermarkets, which offer a variety of additional food services and products. This research reports on food handling trends discovered by observing the food handling practices of grocery store employees and by inquiring about specific food safety -related topics in supermarkets across southern Ontario. Ten researchers, trained to portray customers, visited 13 randomly selected supermarkets in Southern Ontario, three times. Observations and information were evaluated against the content of supermarket training programs and current literature. The triangulation of results was used to establish and confirm the observed trends. During the store visits, a number of poor food handling practices were observed including improper glove use; cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat meats and poultry; improper food storage; and poor personal hygiene. In addition, although many grocery store employees appeared confident in their food safety knowledge, when asked for storage and handling advice, many were unaware of the proper methods within their department and were willing to offer incorrect advice. This advice often conflicted with the food handling information posted throughout the grocery store. This research highlights the need for more interactive training specific to individual departments within a supermarket, and will help in the improvement of training resources for grocery store food handlers.


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