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Food safety requirements in supermarkets and grocery stores

Every food business is required to follow the legal requirements for food safety. Supermarkets, grocery stores and other businesses in the food retail sector are no exception. The general principles of food safety require every business operator along the food chain to ensure that the safety of food is proactively managed and maintained.

The key obligations of food operators

According to the EU General Food Law the key obligations of food handling businesses are:

  • Safety: do not sell unsafe food
  • Responsibility: the food business is responsible for the food it transports, stores and sells
  • Traceability: all suppliers and consignees must be identifiable
  • Transparency: relevant authorities must be informed if food that the operator transports, stores or sells is not safe
  • Emergency: food believed to be unsafe must be withdrawn immediately
  • Prevention: operators must identify and critical points in their processes, apply controls and review them regularly
  • Co-operation: co-operate with relevant authorities to reduce risks to food safety.

Food safety in supermarkets and grocery stores

Supermarkets can offer a wide range of services, from food processing to food serving, so operators too need to follow a wide set of safety procedures. The activities of the food retail businesses can include:

  • Simple processing operations such as cleaning, sorting, grading, fumigation and packaging operations (fruits and vegetables, staple foods)
  • Processed food, private labels or own-brand manufacturing/ processing through contract manufacturers
  • Branded product procurements and supply chain, including warehousing cold chain
  • Front-end retail activities including ‘shop-in-shop’ activity
  • Eateries, restaurants, milling, bakery, preparing and packing cut fruit and vegetables, wine shops, etc
  • Fresh meat/fish (shop-in-shop or stand-alone)
  • Live seafood/fish

Food safety management and hygiene practices for supermarkets

These are general guidelines applicable to all food businesses and activities to achieve the minimum standards to ensure safety for the consumer (FAO, 2014).

  • Facility environment: the location of the facility should be a safe environment and the site kept clear of garbage, harbourage for pests and stagnant water
  • Facility layout and design: the design and layout should provide adequate loading and unloading areas protected from rain and pests, and separate storage, processing, packing etc, areas
  • Construction in handling and storage areas: Sufficient drainage, easy to clean, temperature control, ventilation and power back-up
  • Equipment: equipment and containers used for handling or processing food should be designed, constructed and located to ensure food safety, enable adequate maintenance, cleaning and good hygienic practices. Maintenance and cleaning procedures should be documented and records kept
  • Staff facilities: there should be adequate facilities for personal hygiene, including toilet and handwashing facilities with soap and hot and cold water of potable quality. Staff may also need changing facilities.
  • Cleaning and hygiene: there should be programmes setting cleaning schedules, responsibilities, methods, equipment, and materials suitable for use on-premises handling food; and facilities for appropriate storage of chemicals used, to prevent contamination of raw and prepared food and packaged products
  • Water quality: the water that is used for food production, cleaning and in staff facilities should be of potable quality
  • Waste management: procedures, facilities and suitable equipment should be in place to ensure safe collection, storage and disposal of waste. This should include maintenance of cleanliness in waste storage areas, prevention of cross-contamination of food and non-food products and prevention of pests
  • Pest control: pest control measures should include monitoring, identifying, controlling and documenting of pest infestations and measures carried out. These activities should be done by trained personnel
  • Transport: vehicles and containers used for transporting food and non-food products should be suitable for the purpose, kept in good condition, clean and free of pests. Transport systems should prevent cross-contamination of food products from containers and non-food items and maintain suitable conditions such as temperature and humidity, that are appropriate for the products
  • Training: training in food safety principles and practices should be provided for all employees according to their roles

The application of HACCP principles in food retail

Grocery stores that produce fresh and cooked foods in-store are required to follow the same food safety procedures as restaurants and other food-serving businesses. Stores can apply the same safety principles based on HACCP as the food processing industry, adapted for varied conditions and production.

HACCP principles are applied to protect food from biological, physical and chemical food safety hazards by applying controls that prevent direct contamination and cross-contamination. Hazards can be introduced anywhere in the supply chain from production on farm to transport and during storage and processing in the retail store. Raw animal products such as meat, eggs, fish and shellfish, and especially poultry, can carry microorganisms that are harmful to the consumer. In store, staff surfaces and equipment can introduce hazards to the food.

Food safety hazards

  • Biological agents
  • Physical objects
  • Chemical contaminants


Cross-contamination is the transfer of disease-causing microorganisms or allergens from one food to another. It is one of the most important factors in causing food-borne illnesses.

All employees should be trained in the principles of cross-contamination, including production, sanitation, maintenance, quality assurance and any other employees that could enter food handling areas or come into contact with employees that do.

FDA guidelines for retail stores and other food handling businesses are to implement control measures in all phases of the operation, including:

  • No bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Proper handwashing to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Restriction or exclusion of ill employees to help prevent the transfer of viruses, bacteria, or parasites from hands to food
  • Prevention of cross-contamination of ready-to-eat food or clean and sanitised food-contact surfaces with soiled cutting boards, utensils, aprons, etc., or raw animal foods

7 principles of HACCP

  1. Perform a hazard analysis: define the operation steps required to prepare the food, e.g. receiving, storage, preparation, cooking, chilling. Determine the control measures to prevent and control food hazards
  2. Decide the critical control points (CCPs) that are essential for eliminating hazards
  3. Determine critical limits ie measurable and observable parameter
  4. Establish procedures to monitor CCPs. Make direct observations and measurements of CCPs
  5. Establish corrective actions to prevent the process from causing critical limits to be reached
  6. Establish verification procedures to ensure the HACCP process is performing as planned by observing activities, calibrating equipment, review records and discuss procedures with employees
  7. Establish a record keeping system for the HACCP plan and for the associated activities, including monitoring, corrective action, calibration etc

In retail food preparation, the more varied nature of the foods prepared, processes and ingredients used necessitates the adoption of a different approach from food processors.

Preventive food security measures

Food security measures are designed to protect food supplied by businesses from malicious, criminal and terrorist activities. In the US, the Federal Anti-Tampering Act makes it a federal crime to “tamper with or taint a consumer product, or to attempt, threaten or conspire to tamper with or taint a consumer product, or make a false statement about having tampered with or tainted a consumer product”.

The retail sector is on the front line in protecting the consumer directly from tampered products and other malicious acts affecting the safety of food. GFSI guidelines for manufacturing now include measures for food defence aimed at “preventing, protecting, and responding to the deliberate contamination of food by bacterial agents, toxins, chemicals, radiation or a physical object”.

The FDA has issued guidelines on implementing protective measures specifically for retail food stores and food service establishments which focuses on management, staff, public, facilities and operations.

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