How the Pandemic Changed Consumers’ Food Safety Priorities

As pandemic restrictions ease, the retail world is starting to feel at least somewhat back to normal. But for essential retailers like grocers, there are lingering questions and concerns about what consumers want in terms of health and safety.

Will buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) or curbside (BOPAC) solutions continue to be a must for some shoppers? Will those who ordered groceries for home delivery during the pandemic stick with that option now that restrictions are lifted? And just how many consumers actually experience issues with food safety today? These questions are taking on new urgency, as some of the practices adopted to mitigate pandemic-related health risks have introduced food safety hazards, and high-profile product recalls linger in the news.

To find out answers to these and many more questions, Sensormatic Solutions, in partnership with Progressive Grocer, recently surveyed more than 1,000 US consumers.

- Sponsors -

Online Shopping Comes with Added Safety Concerns

Our survey found that 41 percent of US consumers had shopped for groceries online in the past year, and having those groceries delivered to their homes was far and away their favorite option. A full 61 percent said they preferred home delivery, while another 41 percent favored curbside pickup. Just over a third (34 percent) prefer in-store pick-up—which means the safest option, from a food safety standpoint, is also the least popular.

“It’s really important that grocery stores that use delivery options like curbside ensure that they actually have the right processes in place to ensure that food is safe before [it reaches] consumers,” said Brian Daly, digital food safety technology leader at Sensormatic Solutions. “If you’re picking the product before it gets sent for delivery, what happens in that timeframe? And how long is that timeframe?”

Daly also noted that consumers are becoming much more sophisticated when it comes to food allergies and food-borne illnesses. While our survey found that just 14 percent of those surveyed were shopping for household members with food allergies or Celiac disease, the dangers of improper safety practices remain.

“It’s really important that when food is delivered, the temperature is there, the time is there, and there’s no cross contamination. A lot of grocery stores have moved more into the online sphere, and they have to ensure their food safety processes account for those added complexities.”

Marian Zboraj, digital editor at Progressive Grocer, added that food safety practices within grocery delivery are also on the FDA’s radar.

“That means they need to be on grocers’ radar, as well,” she stressed.

Bad Experiences Mean Bad Press

Our survey found that 56 percent of consumers had experienced food safety incidents, and worryingly, 28 percent had experienced one in the past year.

“Guess what most of these shoppers are doing? They’re taking action,” said Gina Acosta, editor-in-chief at Progressive Grocer. “They’re going on social media and telling everybody about their food safety experience—especially if it’s a bad one. Across all categories, shoppers are worried about cleanliness.

“They’re worried about availability and other food safety considerations, and retailers have been tasked with modernizing their approach to these challenges. With shifting buying behaviors and the dynamic nature of the food retail industry, food health and safety are definitely top of mind.”

Daly agreed, “I always felt that food safety standards in the western sphere were exceptionally good, but that 28 percent means that we have to find ways of ensuring that those issues . . . start decreasing.”

Smarter Solutions to Food Safety Challenges

One way Sensormatic Solutions is working to help food retailers reduce incidents of food-based illnesses is by integrating the PENN Connected digital food safety solution. It offers food retailers the ability to increase operational efficiency through remote refrigeration and digital compliance monitoring, and it will integrate with Sensormatic IQ in the future to help accelerate digital transformation for food retailers. PENN Connected also helps retailers reduce waste, reduce costs, and reach their sustainability goals.

It’s also a powerful tool for improving food safety. PENN Connected empowers food retailers to understand the degree to which workers comply—or don’t—with safe food handling practices. That’s because four of the five most common causes of foodborne illnesses are human behaviors, so making sure your workers are compliant is crucial for eliminating illnesses and negative customer experiences.

Learn More

With so much at stake, it’s always helpful to stay up-to-date on the latest health and safety insights from industry experts. To learn more about the results of our survey, along with more insights from Daly, Zboraj, and Acosta, watch the Sensormatic and Progressive Grocer webinar today.

Stay Updated

Get critical information for loss prevention professionals, security and retail management delivered right to your inbox.