Millions of people get sick every year from eating or drinking spoiled or contaminated food. Worse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3,000 people in the United States die from foodborne illness every year [1]. Even though your convenience store is not a restaurant, it’s the manager’s responsibility to keep customers safe by following food safety standards. Aside from the legal ramifications, creating a clean, food-safe environment is also an essential element in attracting and retaining customers.

Organizations that have excellent food safety records say the first step is creating a food safety culture among your employees. That means ensuring they understand the guidelines for handling, storing, and receiving food; personal hygiene; and sanitation; and more importantly, they are committed to following them consistently.

Some busy managers say it’s tough to make sure employees are trained and compliant. However, foodborne illnesses can be serious or even fatal - safety must be a priority. To successfully train your employees on food safety, you have to know the guidelines yourself. Here are five crucial food safety practices you should implement in your store today:

1. Employ Single-use Gloves

If an employee is working both the cash register and in a food area, they should be wearing single-use gloves. Gloves should be changed when the employee switches between areas – such as making a sandwich then ringing it up and accepting cash or swiping a credit card. Gloves should not be re-used.

2. Wash hands frequently and correctly

You might think that hand washing needs no further explanation, but using the proper method is one of the most critical things you can do to prevent food-borne illnesses in your store. Here’s the hand washing technique the CDC recommends:

  • Wet your hands
  • Soap for 20 seconds (about the amount of time it would take you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.) Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
  • Rinse
  • Towel dry
  • Turn off taps and open the door with a towel

Employees should wash their hands after using the bathroom, when they first start a shift, immediately before touching food, after coughing, sneezing, smoking, or eating, after they’ve handled money, and after they take out the trash.

3. Label Food

All food and ingredients should have labels that identify what they are, when they were made, and when they need to be removed (such as sandwiches and salads).

4. Keep Hot Foods Hot

To avoid the growth of harmful bacteria, keep hot foods between 135 and 165 degrees until they are sold or served. Ensure your warming equipment has a reliable thermometer and check it regularly.

5. Keep Cold Foods Cold

Cold foods should be held at 41 degrees or lower to prevent bacteria growth. Frozen foods should be kept at 0 degrees or lower. It’s imperative that your coolers and refrigerators have reliable thermometers and that you check them regularly.

Train employees to check thermometers every time they interact with a cooler or warmer.

Get Certified

The National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP) has a food safety certification program just for convenience store food managers. The exam is inexpensive, is offered in English and Spanish, and can be completed at a computer-based testing center in your area. When you pass the exam, you’ll receive a certificate with the National Registry seal that you can proudly display to consumers.

What do you do to inspire a safe food culture in your convenience store? Let us know in the comments!

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html

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