Food Safety Issues and Training Methods for Ready-to-Eat Foods in the Grocery Industry

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1985, Boston Chicken opened its first store in Massachusetts, offering rotisserie-roasted chicken and a quick, convenient way to bring dinner home to the family. Thus began the frenzy of what became known as Home Meal Replacement (HMR). Since that time, HMR has developed into a leading trend in the food service and grocery and convenience store industries.

As Americans have become more pressed for time, convenient, simplified meals have become a way of life. This desire for convenience has led many supermarkets to invest considerable time and money into HMR areas with the hope of recouping some of the profits they have lost to food service providers (Reyes, 2002).

The HMR sector of the U.S. economy has increased in sales since its inception. Between 1999 and 2001, the average annual expenditure per consumer rose 5.6 percent (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003). Total sales in this sector are expected to hit $170 billion by the year 2005 (Shaw, 2000).

With increased sales, there may be an increase in food safety risks. Even with perfect production and distribution practices, consumers may not follow safe-handling procedures. For example, a Prevention Magazine/NBC poll found that 29 percent of those surveyed wait two hours or more before eating takeout foods from restaurants without having first refrigerated them (Larson, 1998). Also many grocery stores are adding kitchens and unfamiliar equipment and processes to their businesses. Finally, some foods are more likely to be involved in foodborne illnesses than others, and ensuring their wholesomeness poses greater challenges to retailers (Gourmet Retailer, 2001).

The study reported here attempted to determine the food safety efforts being undertaken by various grocery and convenience stores throughout the country. Specifically, it examined the food safety training systems that are in place, including the methods used to train employees. In addition, it determined the type of food safety information being presented to the public and how it is disseminated.

Home Meal Replacement

HMR is difficult to define, because the meaning varies depending on the source. According to the Food Marketing Institute, HMR is "foods prepared in a store and consumed at home or in-store which require little or no preparation on the part of the consumer." The Beef Information Center defines HMR as "any product with a convenience or added value component" (Grier, 2001). For this study, the definition of HMR will follow that of the Food Marketing Institute. HMR will be defined as foods (meals) that are prepared in a store and consumed at home or in-store and that require little or no preparation on the part of the consumer.

Many factors have contributed to the growth of the HMR market, including rising incomes and time constraints. In two-income house-holds for example, there is less time to devote to meal preparation, and, as a result, more is spent on food away from home (Bowers, 2000). ACNielsen took an in-depth look at the HMR consumer in 1998. The results indicated that the average HMR household had an income greater than $50,000, three or more members, and an employed female head of household younger than 44. The most loyal users of HMR were young singles, childless couples, and new families. Also, 50 percent of Americans "carried in" a meal at least once a week, and 55 percent of the households purchased a meal for at-home dining at least several times a month (Cassano, 1999).

The upshot is that the demand for meals requiring little or no preparation at home has increased tremendously. Ready-to-eat (RTE) meals are one of the major concerns of supermarket executives. According to Food Technology, the number-one food trend in 2003 was "Heat and Eat" (Sloan, 2003). RTE foods and foods packaged for on-the-go consumption were on America's most-wanted list of food product attributes. Some believe that within the next few years RTE foods along with frozen main-dish entrees will surpass home-made foods as the most frequently served main dish (Sloan). …