According to Dr. Darin Detwiler, the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s NACS Food Safety Forum, the pandemic changed the way people think about food safety. Consumers are primed to think about invisible dangers now and they’re used to seeing stores take visible steps against those dangers.

That makes food safety even more essential—it’s not just a sort of insurance to make sure nothing bad happens, it’s a core part of why a consumer will choose your store. And it should be an essential part of any store’s foodservice mission.

Dr. Jay Ellingson kicked off the forum. Among the points he made: As companies grow, their investment in food protection can sometimes plateau. That’s shortsighted, since a larger company has more risk.

Ellingson said that ultimately food risk management systems boil down to people and communication: “What, why, and when, and how do you communicate, not only to your internal coworkers but to your guests and to regulatory people.”

Detwiler reminded the participants that 48 million people in the United States become sick each year from foodborne illness. Of that number, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. It’s easy for that to become just a statistic. Detwiler shared photos and stories of people who have passed away and families impacted by foodborne illness—including his own. Detwiler lost his son to E. coli after he was exposed to another person who ate tainted meat at a fast food restaurant.

That drove home the heroic role of food safety professionals—they’re protecting brands and businesses, yes, but also saving lives.

Other speakers included:

  • Dr. Ben Chapman and Dr. Lisa Shelley, who talked about new and emerging food safety issues related to retail and hygiene.
  • Convenience retailers Amy Costello of Casey’s and Nancy Wilson of Wawa, who participated in a fireside chat moderated by Jeremy Zenlea of EG America, on their approaches to food safety, supporting their store teams, and the movement toward food safety culture.
  • Steven Mandernach of AFDO, who shared highlights from a survey of national restaurant, grocery and convenience stores, including opportunities for improvement in violations frequently found in the convenience store segment.
  • Shawn Stevens of the Food Industry Counsel LLC, who went deep into today’s complex supply chain issues and talked about the importance of asking the right questions of your vendor partners.  

The session ended with questions for Detwiler, Ellingson and Zenlea from the audience, along with suggestions.

Interested in attending the Food Safety Forum in 2024? Stay in the know here.