by RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
As the grocerant trend continues to expand in the retail industry, more and more food is being produced at the store level. Chefs are bringing creativity into this space, offering options that bring shoppers to the grocery store for dinner instead of visiting restaurants. This trend creates retailer differentiation, brings shoppers to the store more often, and increases customer loyalty.
As more and more food is prepared in stores, there is heightened concern over food safety and allergen control. This brings added challenge for retailers as food safety can be an under-resourced, underfunded program even before the addition of these in-store food prep offerings. Food safety and allergen control impacts many departments of the store including produce, bakery, meat and dairy, deli and RTH/RTE programs, bulk foods, salad bars, coffee shops and restaurant. There are implications for demo/sampling programs, and food safety at distribution centers must be considered as well.
The complexity of food safety and allergen management at retail provides an opportunity for scope and responsibility expansion for retail dietitians. Retail RDs are, in fact, perfect for a role in food safety and allergen management as they have educational background in this area, have strong experience at developing programs, and are experts at training and communication. According to Hilary Thesmar, RD, Vice President of Food Safety at the Food Marketing Institute, "If you don't have safe food, you can't have a healthy diet." Thesmar continues, "The opportunity for RDs is to bring the two worlds together, acting as a liaison between food safety and nutrition programs and services."
Many retail dietitians include safe food handling in their shopper education, making the expansion into store and corporate food safety and allergen control a logical step. FMI's Hilary Thesmar suggests retail dietitians can get involved by training retail colleagues on food safety and allergen control. Those working in and managing these programs in the retail setting can come from a variety of professional backgrounds, and dietitians can ensure they have a strong understanding of core principles of food safety regardless of their background. Thresholds, for example, are a scientific topic well understood by dietitians, and they can find creative ways to educate on this as well as other key food safety and allergen topics. The required expertise and training on food safety that must exist with theretail grocery setting can vary from state to state, so it's important to understand the regulations and policies in your company's location.
Retail RDs can bring heightened awareness to fresh and prepared foods departments as well as senior leadership on the importance of food safety. Because of their training as well as their engagement with shoppers and all departments of the store, dietitians are likely to have sight on situations that could potentially put shoppers and the store's reputation at risk.
Food safety at retail can be at the store level or in one of many different departments in the corporate office. The best food safety programs transcend departments and utilize a top down management approach. RDs should focus on building partnerships and showcasing how they can add value to ensuring a safe food supply throughout the supply chain of the retail company.
As more and more dietitians are employed by retailers, the areas where these health professionals can add value continues to expand. This provides continued career growth for individual retail RDs as well as career path development for retailers with many RDs in their ranks. Food safety and allergen control are definitely areas of responsibility that should be included in the opportunities for retail RDs.