Food Safety Issues in Grocery Retailers: The Challenges and Solutions

July 10, 2023
Food & Bev

Grocery retailers are often the last line of defense when it comes to food safety issues. They play a critical role in ensuring that the food that comes into their store is fit for consumption and they can be held liable when it is not. Food safety is non-negotiable for consumers. Any issue that arises from unsafe food being sold can damage the retailer's reputation irreparably. 

While there is an entire value chain involved in the transportation and storage of food products, food retailers have some control over their safety. This article will explore some of the most common challenges to food safety faced by grocery retailers and how they can be overcome. 

The two ‘Ts’ 

Taking control of the safety of your food products starts before they even reach your store. While you cannot control the entire value chain and all its various stakeholders, you can control some variables. There are two key variables that you can track and manage to help ensure that your products are likely to be fit for consumption:


From the time food products are harvested, they have a window of time during which they can be considered safe. When the window of time elapses, products cannot be considered viable to sell or be consumed, resulting in unnecessary wastage and financial losses. Knowing what the safety windows are for each of your products, and tracking them across their life-cycle is critical for grocery retailers. It’s not only about the product’s shelf life within the store but how much time it has taken to be transported from manufacturing to the shelf. 


The other critical variable is temperature because many food products are considered ‘temperature sensitive’. Temperature-sensitive products need to stay within a specified temperature range to remain safe to consume. As a retailer, you need to be sure that temperatures are controlled all along the value chain and whilst in store. 

These are the key temperatures to be aware of:

  • Freezing: 0°F - 32°F
  • Refrigeration: 32°F - 40°F
  • Danger zone: 40°F - 140°F
  • Hot-holding: 135°F
  • Cooking: 160°F - 175°F

Food retailers need to have the right systems and technology in place so that they can accurately track the time and temperature of their products throughout the value chain. 

Retail responsibilities 

The responsibilities of retailers concerning food safety come down to preventing contamination. Contamination is the leading cause of health problems arising from bought food products. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that: “cross-contamination is the transfer of disease-causing microorganisms or allergens from one food to another.”

Food contamination safety hazards can take many forms, but can be categorized as follows: 

  1. Biological agents (e.g. Salmonella, mold, yeast)
  2. Physical objects (e.g. plastic, glass, hair)
  3. Chemical contaminants (e.g. allergens. colorants, cleaning products)

It is the retailer's responsibility to ensure that contamination risk factors are controlled through proper hygiene and product separation practices.

Food safety issues and solutions

Every retailer faces their own set of problems based on their unique context, but there are some common risks that pose challenges to food safety. Here are some of the most common problems you are likely to face and some ways that you can address them. 

  1. Supply chain management:

Problem: Managing the complex supply chain. Being able to ensure the safety and quality of products from the farm to the dinner table is difficult. 

Possible solution: Be critical about who you partner with for food procurement and transportation. Establish strong partnerships with reliable suppliers who prioritize food safety standards. You may need to invest more, but it will reduce the risk of contaminated or unsafe products entering your store. 

Consider implementing advanced tracking systems that enable real-time monitoring of products, helping identify potential safety issues and facilitating prompt recalls if necessary.

  1. Proper storage and temperature control:

Problem: Being able to maintain appropriate storage conditions and temperature. Temperature control is crucial to preventing bacterial growth and foodborne illnesses. 

Possible solution: Invest in modern refrigeration equipment with temperature monitoring and alarm systems to optimize storage conditions. Create and implement standard operating procedures for store employees that support proper storage techniques, temperature monitoring, and the recognition of spoilage to help prevent food safety issues. 

  1. Cross-contamination prevention:

Problem: As mentioned, cross-contamination poses a significant challenge to food safety. Retailerss have to implement ways to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading from one product to another. 

Possible solution: Properly separate raw and cooked foods, use color-coded cutting boards and utensils, and enforce strict hygiene practices to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Implement rigorous cleaning and sanitization schedules for equipment, surfaces, and utensils to help maintain a hygienic environment.

  1. Employee hygiene and training:

Problem: Ensuring that staff knows how to practice good hygiene and follow the practices necessary to keep food safe and uncompromised. 

Possible solution:

Provide regular training sessions on food safety practices, personal hygiene, and proper handling techniques to help ensure that employees are well-informed and follow best practices consistently. Use online or digital learning courses to deliver training at scale. Enforce strict personal hygiene standards, such as hand washing protocols, the use of gloves, and the prohibition of jewelry, to minimize the risk of food contamination.

  1. Product Labeling and information:

Problem: Providing accurate and informative product labeling that enables consumers to make informed choices and avoid allergens or potentially harmful ingredients.

Possible solution:

Ensure accurate and legible labeling of common allergens on packaging to help individuals with food allergies to make safe purchasing decisions. Implement shelf tagging systems that display important product information including ingredients, expiration dates, and potential allergens, and provide consumers with easy access to crucial details.

Start tracking

Food retailers need to be aware of the potential challenges to food safety within their food operations, especially for temperature-sensitive food products. When you have a clear understanding of these risks, you will be in a better position to adapt to them with smart solutions. 

Are you ready to start implementing solutions to your value chain or store to minimize food safety issues? Get in touch with Varcode today. Varcode’s Smart Data Solution gives you access to Smart Tags™, Smart Scanning, and their management suite so that you can track and manage temperature-sensitive products accurately for better decision-making. 

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