From the a-little-knowledge-is-dangerous category, a UK deli clerk at a Sainsbury’s supermarket refused to sell a pregnant woman a piece of cheddar cheese until she lied and promised she wouldn’t eat the cheese.
Janet Lehain wrote in a letter of complaint to Sainsbury's that the female clerk at the Clapham, Beds store was "patronising" and said, “how lucky my generation are to have such information available as this was not the case 'in her day'."
Sainsbury's said the worker was wrong, adding,
"It isn't policy to refuse a sale on grounds goods may be unsuitable for pregnant women."
Whatever the policy is, Sainsbury’s could at least get the information correct: there are certain soft cheeses that should be avoided by pregnant women because of the potential to support growth of listeria. Amy has written extensively about this.
Me, I view the grocery store and the restaurant as my laboratory. I watch and ask questions of people, especially front-line staff. The head of food safety back at corporate HQ may know the correct food safety answer, but are they providing support to front-line staff, the people customers are most likely to interact with? That’s why we do food safety infosheets, a tool to provide continuous updates to employees, and that’s why we do secret shopper experiments.
The key findings after sending trained shoppers to a bunch of stores in southern Ontario in 2004?
“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.”
Any organization is only as good as its weakest link. There’s already enough bad food safety information out there.
Secret shopper: Grocery store employee food handling practices from a customer’s perspective
Food Protection Trends
Lisa Mathiasen and Doug Powell
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.