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Top 7 Food Safety Risks In Supermarkets & Food Retail Stores


Food has become so readily available today that we take it for granted. Consumers sometimes just assumed that food bought from groceries shop to hypermarkets is safe to eat. These nicely packaged and displayed food often mask the complex processes and procedures which happen behind the scene to ensure food are safe for consumption for everyone.

As our food choices expanded, they can come from around the world through complex supply networks. Every item has multiple risks associated with it on its journey from the farm to our table, many of which can affect consumers’ health:

  • Pesticides, herbicides and GM crops on the farm, to pest contamination on raw materials and produced food;
  • From handling practices at every point along the food supply chain, to the ingredients of processed foods and the methods used to make them;
  • From storage conditions to food packaging;
  • And lastly, of course, the hygienic handling of products in the store.

There are many ways in which food is presented to you, they could be in its raw state, dry packed, frozen, etc. Unfortunately, it also means there are plenty of opportunities where consumers’ health can be compromised due to the possible risks of food contamination.

Here are 7 main areas of food safety risk in supermarkets & food retail stores:

1. Raw Foods
Raw foods can pick up bacteria and other contaminants along the path from farm to shelf. Raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish can carry infectious diseases and pose health risk to shoppers if not handled or packaged properly.

Products prepared and packaged in store, such as cooked meats, cheeses or bakery products, need the same food safety standards practiced by the food processing factory or restaurant to prevent shoppers from getting food-borne diseases.

Shoppers handle loose apples, tomatoes, sweet peppers, etc to choose the best ones and contaminate those not selected. Products that are eaten raw and grow near the ground, such as celery, lettuce and strawberries can easily pick up soil particles. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before eating to ensure any contamination from farm to store and in store, from fellow shoppers’ hands or coughs and sneezes, is safely removed.

2. Poor Employees' Hygiene Habits

Hand washing

Across all businesses preparing or processing food, one of the most common causes of food contamination is poor personal hygiene practices by staff, such as working while ill, eating at work, spitting, etc. Hands can easily transfer harmful bacteria from a contaminated surface to fresh food.

Adequate hand hygiene practice with soap is essential:

  • after handling: raw meat and equipment used to cut it; food waste and containers; cash, phones or door handles;
  • after using the toilet;
  • after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • before and after wearing gloves;
  • after using cleaning products, such as cloths, sponges, mops, cleaning and sterilising chemicals, pesticides, etc.

3. Food Fraud
Although the risk of food fraud is relatively low in products found in major food retailers like hypermarkets, it can sometimes slip through the food safety barriers. Horse meat was found in beef in European supermarkets in 2013 and leftover, industrial salts were discovered in seasoning manufacturers in China in 2014. Closer to home in 2017, the discovery of fake milk in Johor, following a nationwide product replacement programme, has raised concerns among parents.

These cases were seen as a breakdown in the food supply chain safety measures as retailers often did not have full traceability of ingredients and had to rely on their suppliers to ensure safe foods for their shoppers.

4. Shopping Trolleys & Baskets


Shopping trolleys and baskets are some of the most handled items by shoppers. This means they often pick up germs from hundreds of people that touch the handles. According to a study by the University of Arizona, shopping trolleys have far higher levels of bacteria than some surfaces in public toilets and other public spaces like playgrounds. 72% of trolley handles were found to contain bacteria like E. coli, which may cause diarrhoea and infection. A separate study also found that Salmonella and Campylobacter are present in trolleys carrying raw meat. When shopping trolleys are parked outside the store, bird droppings may occur which may contaminate everything that you put inside!

5. Poor Building Design and Maintenance
Poor building design and maintenance allows pests easy access into your premises through windows, doorways, drains and sewers, spaces around pipes, holes in roofs, etc. Once pests have access, they present a major threat to food safety. Poor maintenance of grounds around buildings gives rodents harbourage, and poor management of refuse (the containers and the areas where they are stored) can attracts rodents, flies, cockroaches, birds and ants. Inside buildings, rats, and cockroaches will look for small undisturbed areas to shelter and breed, and birds can gain access to poorly maintained roof spaces.

6. Pest Infestation
Large supermarkets or small convenience stores can stock tens of thousands of products from multiple suppliers. Presence of pests, such as ratsflies and cockroaches, could pose a threat to food safety. These pests are primarily attracted by accessible food and water and will then seek shelter nearby as they do not like to travel far in their daily foraging for food.


Rats tend to gnaw packaging and eat food, they also leave a trail of contaminated surfaces along their runs which contain their disease-carrying urine and dirt from their furs.

Over 100 pathogens have been recorded from flies, including Salmonella, Cholera, Shigella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and also parasitic worms and fungi. They feed on faecal matter, garbage and rotting materials, while doing that they also pick up contaminated materials on their feet and bodies. They then transfer it to clean areas and fresh foods that they feed on.

Cockroaches, another bacteria-spreading pest, are attracted by small food residues left around food preparation areas or from spills, rubbish and drains. They even eat cardboard!

There are many potential points of entry to a premises, especially a hypermarket, which can be exacerbated by poor construction and maintenance, such as cracks around doors and windows or in walls, vents, pipes, cabling, drains, doorways, windows, screens.

Thus, it is important that employees on all fronts uphold and practise good personal hygiene as it is often the first step in mitigating food safety risks.

7. Ignorance on Pest Control Service
Large food retailers require pest control services to be carried in-store as part of their audit requirements with various suppliers. With a myriads of food products sold, from raw food to packaged food, a professional pest controller must work hand in hand with food retailers to ensure pesticides applied do not contaminate their food stock. Sound technical expertise and industry knowledge could mitigate the risks of food contamination for food retailers.

Find out how we can help you to protect food stock and integrity to ensure food is safe for consumption for your shoppers through a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management programme. Call us at our toll-free number 1300 881 911 or send us an enquiry today.


  • Charles P.Gerba and Sheri Maxwell (2012), Food Protection Trends: Bacterial contamination of Shopping Carts and Approaches to Control.