food safety implementation planning

Planning for Success: Retail Food Safety Implementation Scoping and Change Management

Nathaniel Sheetz, Director of Product Management
Julia Gongora, Implementation Specialist
Neeta Dash, Solution Analyst

Retailers know the importance of food safety, and, as we’ve seen in previous blog entries, more are turning to technology to improve compliance and reduce risk.

Most recently, we reviewed several high-level considerations for a successful food safety implementation project. In this entry, we’ll focus more specifically on planning for success and making difficult decisions about project scope and change management.

Understanding the current state

One of the key early steps in a food safety project is an assessment of current food safety practices. Such an assessment would identify all the food safety processes that store employees are expected to complete, as well as key parameters for each process, such as:

  • Temperature thresholds
  • Time allowed between temperature checks, pH checks and sanitation activities
  • Actions taken in response to out-of-compliance conditions
  • Actions taken in response to failures to complete processes on time

However, perhaps even more important than understanding these expectations is understanding actual practice. Do store employees really perform the processes correctly? Or do they persistently fail in one way or another to accomplish what is expected?

Only by understanding both aspects—what is expected and what is actually done can organizations begin to lay out a plan for what should be included in a food safety implementation project.

Identifying top food safety priorities

Once stakeholders have a solid understanding of the current state of food safety in their organization, they can use it as a starting point as they identify the key elements of the implementation project.

The first area they might consider could be high-level food safety workflows common in the retail industry, like:

  • Periodic checks of holding temperatures
    • Both cold and hot items
    • Both sales floor and kitchen
  • Cook temperature logs for cooked items sold hot
  • Cook and cool temperature logs for cooked items sold cold
  • Sushi rice acidity
  • Scheduled and unscheduled sanitation activities

To decide which of these workflows should be included in the initial scope, consider both the theoretical risks as well as the actual risks associated with each one. For example, an organization might do a great job of capturing and recording cook temperatures, but regularly fail to capture holding temperatures in a timely manner. Such a retailer thus might focus on implementing a better process for holding temperatures and leave the existing cook process alone, for the time being. Such a strategy would not necessarily indicate a failure to properly regard the risk of selling undercooked food, but rather might appropriately reflect the best way to quickly reduce the organization’s overall food safety liability.

Selecting the right workflows, however, is only the first step. Organizations must also consider, at least at a high level, the corrective actions and reviews that ought to be completed in response to certain conditions. Establishing specific parameters will be done later as part of the actual implementation, but from the perspective of project scope, it’s important to begin to map out expectations regarding these elements. Will employees be empowered to make decisions regarding whether an item should be rechilled or discarded, or will the system be expected to give associates guidance based on configured inputs? Will all out-of-compliance conditions require direct manager follow-up, or will a review of a daily report be sufficient?

Related processes and other considerations

In addition to these core food safety activities, many organizations include related activities within the food safety umbrella, such as time control logs and meat grind logs. Others see a close tie-in with production planning, shrink management, merchandising and other operational activities, and seek out software solutions that have capabilities in these areas as well.

For example, a production planning module could feed batch details directly to the food safety work plan, and food safety activities could automatically generate relevant loss prevention tasks and service case merchandising reviews. On an even bigger scale, incorporating other store activities into the same ecosystem—store operations, logging and reports, employee scheduling and more—has numerous advantages, like greater ease of use, unified data and greater consistency in overall operations.

Identifying the priorities for each of these elements and deciding whether they should be included in the initial project implementation depends on the priorities of the business as well as the solution itself. The organization must seek to understand the amount of change that end users will experience for each new workflow or process change, and then commit to a change management strategy that proactively encourages employee buy-in and adoption of the solution.

It’s natural to feel a tension between a desire for more capabilities and a recognition of the importance of a quick and successful implementation. But with the right solution and partner, organizations can have confidence that even if certain capabilities are not included in the initial project plan, additional functionality can be delivered and enabled in subsequent planned phases.

Conclusion

Identifying the right processes to include in a food safety implementation project, particularly with respect to the challenges of change management, may not be simple, but it’s a crucial early step in a successful project. In our next blog entry in this series, we’ll dig into these workflows in more detail, identifying “critical control points” and associated follow-up actions that will form the backbone of the food safety solution. We’ll see how retailers can tackle varying regulatory requirements and operational challenges as they implement food safety solutions.