By Automatic Merchandiser
When planning and servicing micro markets it is important to have a mix of products. The right mix creates the type of collaborative and social spaces many workplaces are now looking for in order to attract and retain employees. Bagged and packaged snacks and food items can go a long way to entice micro market users as well as balance the costs and concerns associated with refrigerated food. Specifically, when dealing with refrigerated food in micro markets, operators must be consider how to "maintain the cold chain" from creation of the food items, through transport, and ending in delivery to the consumer.
1. Ensure sources have proper food safety processes
Any operator that runs a commissary is aware of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls for Human Food rule, which defines the food safety systems that must be in place for the manufacture of food. For operators who procure food elsewhere, it's imperative to look into the procedures of the distributor and/or process of delivery to ensure the food you receive is safe. It is often taken for granted by customers that food providers make food safety a top priority. However, maintaining the cold chain can be challenging. According to an article in Food Safety Magazine, food products must be loaded correctly to prevent contamination and damage, as well as stored at the correct temperatures (frozen, refrigerated or dry) in the vehicle to maintain quality and safety. The food has to retain its chill even through multi-stops, especially in the heat of summer when vehicle refrigeration units must work extra-hard to maintain cool temperatures.
2. Weigh benefits of refrigerated vehicles vs. compartments
Some operators create dedicated food routes using refrigerated vehicles to ensure the proper temperature through transport. Other micro market operators mix cold food and ambient temperature items on vehicles to save money. In either case, items must be kept at their optimal temperature, which can be challenging. It might mean adding airtight dividers within a vehicle to accommodate frozen or refrigerated items. It might mean finding a system to blow cold air into the compartment or vehicle. While some operators will use food coolers, with long trips or food that is very sensitive to variations in temperature, this isn't recommended. Many deliveries resulting in open doors and extended periods with the vehicle turned off can also affect the temperature of the compartments, or overall vehicle. Each route needs to be carefully considered.
3. Monitor temperature during transport
Whether it's a thermometer bolted to the inside of the vehicle or a smart thermometer that can be paired with a mobile device, it is necessary to monitor the temperature of food during transport and delivery. Of primary concern is any loading or delivery procedures that allow the temperature of the refrigerated area to rise. Meat, dairy and produce can all develop food borne pathogens that will make the consumer ill and hurt business through recalls and a lack of trust in the products and services an operator offers. That is why it's a must to keep high standards and monitor temperature regularly. Load and unload vehicles in such a way to minimizes the time food is without refrigeration.
Sometimes transporting frozen and refrigerated food doesn't affect food safety, but instead quality. In the case of frozen food that has thawed enough to release moisture and then refrozen, ice crystals will form on the inside of the package. Certain items, such as lettuce will wilt at temperatures that are too cold. Enough quality issues can impact the perception of the micro markets food offerings and drive down sales.
4. Ensure food coolers monitor temperatures and lock
While glass front coolers might look interchangeable, beverage coolers and food coolers are quite different. Food coolers include a locking mechanism that locks the door when the temperature reaches unsafe levels, generally a temperature that is too high. The lock will prevent consumers from being able to reach into the cooler and purchase an item. Often when a lock out occurs, an individual from the company will need to visit and reset the cooler, inspecting the food inside and disposing of any items that could result in illness if consumed. There are built-in and aftermarket systems to allow a cooler to lock, offering operators different options depending on the need. Both offer the food safety assurances of a consistent and proper temperature to consumers.
Food accounts for a quarter of micro markets sales and draws in more patrons. Don't let it be what undoes your success by not considering how to properly store and transport it. Balance the challenges of refrigerated items with a well thought out range of shelf-stable product that enhance your micro market location.