Building and Improving our Produce Food Safety System

Produce sales account for more than 30 percent of the supermarket dollar coming from all fresh departments (Nielsen Perishables Group Fresh Facts, 2013). This makes it more important than ever for retailers to ensure the safety of the produce they sell to their customers. Safety and value are often congruent in a shopper's mind, and 38 percent of consumers identify "the quality of fresh foods" as a reason they will bypass one food retailer and shop at one further away (U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2014).

Food retailers remain painfully aware that it only takes one produce food safety mishap to adversely affect brand reputation, unravel years of consumer demand and confidence, and open the flood gates to financial liability. In an effort to help FMI member companies with produce safety issues, FMI food safety experts–in conjunction with trade association partners United Fresh (UF) and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA)–have developed a produce safety guide for retailers. The end result is a practical and usable guide to help retailers of all sizes improve upon their existing produce safety programs. The guidance document includes a particular focus on working with local and small produce growers and emphasizes education, communication and continuous improvement in food safety plans.

The guide has two parts. Part one is focused on helping retail produce buyers and procurement departments ensure their growers have a minimum foundation of produce safety. Part two contains easy-to-use best practices guidance for produce handling from the point of receiving the product off the truck to placing it on display for the customer. Those responsible for produce safety at retail could use part two to either build a food safety system or improve an existing one.

This collaborative initiative among our organizations and respective members is a case study for supply chain coordination. As trading partners, we remain vigilant on behalf of consumers and our brands in order to maintain the integrity of our fresh offerings.

The document is available for download from the FMI website under "food safety."

*83% of consumers indicated they are mostly or completely confident that the food at grocery stores is safe. This level of basic confidence has remained consistent over the past 10 years.

*91% of consumers trust their grocery store to ensure safe products.

*Consumers express various food safety concerns.

  • At the top is bacterial contamination of foods (80%).
  • Other concerns relate to chemicals, such as pesticides (74%) and hormones (66%) added to the food supply.

*Still other consumers worry about product tampering (66%), food sourced from China (65%), or terrorists tampering with food (60%).

Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, is FMI vice president of food safety programs. Reach her at [email protected].