Are Organic Foods Truly Safer Than Non-Organic?

Consumers buy organic foods believing they’re safer than their non-organic counterparts. They don’t get sprayed with pesticides, so on the surface, this seems true in that respect.

To explore this further, researchers identified 18 outbreaks between 1992 and 2014 that possibly were caused by organic food products. The outbreaks caused 779 illnesses, 258 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths.

That sounds surprising, and not so good. But is it something to actually get worried and upset about?

Interestingly, 56% of the outbreaks studied happened between 2010 and 2014. The study’s authors say this likely results from the increasing production and consumption of organic foods.

At the same time, data generally was not available. The meaning of “organic” has changed over the decades, and didn’t have an official definition until 2000. In addition, state and local health departments are typically understaffed and underfunded, and they frequently don’t have the data necessary to study available. Because of the changing understanding of “organic,” and the difficulties collecting data, it could be that many organically-caused outbreaks weren’t recorded as such.

At this point, the study concluded that you can’t necessarily assume organic milk and produce are any safer than their conventionally grown counterparts. It’s generally perceived both are safer. But it’s not necessarily true.

Standards for Organic Growth Don’t Address Some Safety Issues

Today’s organic standards, set by the USDA, simply say organic food can’t be grown with persistent use of pesticides and GMO seeds. Livestock must be raised without antibiotics or hormones. However, current organic food standards don’t address microbial or chemical hazards.

Studies have found pesticide residue on organically grown produce. However, the general finding has been that lower concentrations are present on organic product.

It seems like you could draw the obvious conclusion that organic food with lesser pesticide residue would have fewer instances of illness than food with persistent pesticide use. However, there is limited data available on the harm that legal pesticide use causes (if any). Most existing studies agree the benefits gained from using lesser pesticides are negligible. This is a contentious subject, so you will find differing strong opinions.

While researchers figure out the truth, your customers should simply treat organic produce just like non-organic produce. For now, you can keep giving your customers what they want, and follow the same strict safety standards for both organic and non-organic produce.

What to Do When Your Customers Direct Your Janitors

Customer relations can sometimes be extremely difficult to manage. Every customer is different. And every once in a while, you get a tough one.

What do you do if you get the type of customer, whether internal or external, who takes it upon themselves to director your janitors as to what they should do? Worse yet, what should you do if you get a customer who removes your janitors from their tasks and then complains they’re not getting things done like they should?

Such unreasonable scenarios do happen. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in one:

Let Your Customer Know the Consequences of Their Actions

Customers don’t realize that if they direct your staff to do different work, they expose themselves to liability. Since they gave the order themselves, they are on record as being liable for workers’ comp injuries, or civil lawsuits. They may also expose themselves to additional fees if your current service contract doesn’t cover their request.

You Need To Have a Chat with Your Customer

Customers may engage in this type of behavior for a variety of reasons. They may not like their contract, so they could be putting your staff in impossible situations so they can claim you violated the contract. They also may not understand that their contract doesn’t cover what they request, so they may be interested in rewriting their contract.

Some customers just want to have control. You can offer it to them, but negotiate the appropriate costs with them if they do.

Train Your Staff So They Can Deal with This Situation

Since your customer gives orders to your staff without involving you, you’ll have to train your staff on what you want them to do when your customer directs them. For your staff, it’s pretty simple:

  • Acknowledge the customer’s request
  • Let the customer know whether or not they can do the requested task
  • Contact you, their supervisor, so you can straighten out the situation with your customer

Then, it’s up to you to talk with your customer and negotiate a relationship that works for both sides. In most cases, this is possible. In rare cases, it isn’t. You may have to terminate the relationship with your customer.

However, you now have a workable approach for managing customers who direct your staff.

How to Overcome the Most Common Problems with Finishing Floors

Floor finishing isn’t always easy or straightforward, depending on the type of floor you’re considering. Sometimes customers have their own unique concerns that make it difficult to accomplish the objective of having a beautiful, and sanitary, floor.

Here’s what to do when those challenges come up:

Your Customer Insists On “Waxing”

Here, you’ll have to educate your customer that floors often don’t get “waxed” anymore. You’ll have to show them the type of finish that’s appropriate for their floor and goals, and why it’s used (instead of wax).

They may continue to use the term “wax,” even after you’ve educated them. But, let them go ahead and do so, as long as they let you do their job and give them the outcome they want.

You might tell them that using wax in this particular situation will lead to great expense down the road should the wax need to be removed. Talking money often gets customer attention.

The Customers’ Floor Isn’t as Glossy As They’d Like

Here again, you’ll have to educate your customer as to what needs to be done. Tell your customer they may need more coats of finish, thicker coats of finish, less abrasive buffing pads, removal of sand left on the floor, or even to replace the tile on their floor (if it’s quite old and porous).

Customers typically want the superficial shiny look because it gives the appearance of a building in good order (whether that’s the case or not). You may also need to educate them on the use of additional floor mats so dirt, sand, and other debris cling to those instead of the floor. And your customer may need to educate their building’s occupants to make more conscious use of these mats.

Keeping a building clean is truly a team effort between you and your customer.

Your Floor Finish Has Lots of Streaks

This problem is most likely caused by your janitorial team. It could have a number of causes, such as:

  • Floor finish not being given enough time to dry before additional coats get applied
  • Your team may have used dirty mops or pails to apply the finish
  • Your floor finish was stored in extreme temperatures
  • The floor wasn’t rinsed properly before being coated
  • If you use cotton mop heads, they may not have been soaked prior to use

So, you now have some common solutions to floor finishing problems. And, they’ll save you plenty of stress and hassle when you use them.

Compliance for Produce Safety Rule May Extend Well Beyond January 2018

After the FDA’s mid-February meeting led by Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, companies learned they’ll likely not have to comply with the Produce Safety Rule until after January 2018. Currently, there is debate about the water quality requirements, as producers claim the current legislation is “burdensome.” And the industry is debating additional proposed legislation because it’s written in a vague, and unclear way.

The current legislation would affect produce growers who grow fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and other specialty crops.

What Does the Produce Safety Rule Regulate?

First proposed in 2013 under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the produce rule went under extensive testing through public meetings, webinars, and firsthand visits to farms across the nation. Revisions were made which led to the rule becoming more practical, flexible, and effective. It wasn’t passed in its current form until a couple years later.

The current rule regulates agricultural water quality to eliminate generic E. coli from a farm’s water supply. For example, E. coli must not be present in water used:

  • To wash hands during and after harvest
  • On food contact surfaces
  • To directly contact produce
  • For making ice during or after harvest
  • To help with sprout irrigation

If general E. coli is found in any of this water, famers must immediately discontinue its usage, and take corrective action before use continues once again. There is additional legislation on water, and how agricultural farms use it. Much of the debate about compliance currently centers around this legislation.

The rest of the produce safety law regulates:

  • Raw manure usage
  • Stabilized compost
  • Sprout contamination (frequently associated with foodborne illness outbreaks)
  • How farms use grazing animals
  • Worker health and hygiene
  • Equipment, tools, and buildings

The rule does not apply to produce not in its raw or natural state. For example, that means asparagus, a number of kinds of beans, chickpeas, coffee beans, horseradish, okra, peanuts, pecans, peppermint, and many grains.

The law permits states, tribes, and counties to apply for variances, which are exceptions to various parts of the produce rule.

Do Your Vendors Work With Companies Who Comply With the Produce Rule?

Your customers ultimately judge you by the quality of your food. If they get ill from your food, they hold you responsible (even if it wasn’t technically your fault).

So the question for your vendors is: how can they reassure you they get food from farmers who comply with the Produce Rule?

Only build relationships with ones that make you feel comfortable they work with farmers who are in full compliance with this rule, to the best of their knowledge.

Will Food Regulations Tighten Up in 2017 and Beyond?

Think food safety law is tight? It’s unclear, but it seems as though it may not tighten up anytime soon.

According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans find many aspects of food safety and management important. However, their greatest concerns are “…affordability, nutrition, and food safety.”

Americans place a high degree of trust in the FDA. But they trust the food industry itself and the media least of all, according to the same article.

What’s Driving All This?

America has a strong infatuation with food. Think of all the celebrity chefs and cooking shows you see on TV. Netflix documentaries about food get high viewership rates. As a result, it only naturally follows that Americans have a strong interest in the policy protecting the food they eat.

However, the current presidential administration isn’t necessarily supporting the creation of additional legislation. The Congressional House has already passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, while the Senate is working on its own version.

If the whole act successfully passed, here’s the rough process you could expect for any new food safety rule:

  • The FDA and USDA would be forced to consider many regulatory options
  • Judges, whose job it would be to question the FDA’s and USDA’s experts, would then review these proposed rules in two separate reviews
  • Both the Senate and House would then have to give their final approval of any proposed legislation

The Food Industry As a Whole Supports Additional Legislation

While the current administration wants to reduce federal regulatory power, the food industry itself supports it. The effect of additional regulation is that consumers have more trust and confidence in the food industry. In addition, it puts unethical companies out of business.

The previous administration’s support of the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in 2011, was viewed as a big step forward for food safety because of its shift to a preventative (versus reactive) approach to food safety.

What Can You Do?

Even though public opinion sways in the opposite direction of federal action, that doesn’t mean you need to sit by the wayside. You may not have the ability to influence federal regulation.

However, you could create your own in-house standards above and beyond the current requirements of federal regulation. Then, you can market this fact to consumers. They may not trust your own standards as much as federal ones. But when they see you holding yourself to a higher standard than federal law, they’ll take that seriously to a degree.

It’s an idea for creating trust and confidence in consumers when the powers that be don’t support what the public wants.

Should You Use IoT to Manage Your Food’s Safety?

Woman at a grocery store talking on the phone

You’ve probably at least heard chatter about the “internet of things.” You may have heard sensational stories of remarkable business transformations IoT has made possible.

Those are real. In 2010, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestburg first made the prediction that the world will have 50 billion connected devices by 2020. In 2011, Dave Evans, a Cisco employee, made the same prediction.

What Is IoT?

You may not yet have a concrete idea of the internet of things. Basically, it’s hooking up sensors throughout your building in places that weren’t previously possible. You can now do this because it’s finally become cost-effective enough to mass-produce sensors so nearly every business can afford them.

Why Should C-Stores Care about IoT?

IoT sensors automate a lot of manual labor. And when you have them integrated properly into your c-store and business processes, you can actually predict and respond to anticipated future events before they happen. Attempt to do the same on your own, and you shoot your labor costs through the roof.

For example, IoT sensors could monitor your stock of a certain brand of candy bar, and then automatically order more when you need them. Multiply this by a thousand times across all your stores, and that’s where the savings start to pile up. Then, you may be able to use the data to make more intelligent business decisions.

But Don’t Use IoT Because It’s The Next Hot Trend

There’s no doubt the internet of things makes sense for many businesses. Many are adopting it already.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Elliot Grant, founder of Harvest Mark, a traceability company that serves the food industry, recommends:

“Having more data doesn’t necessarily give you more insight. So my recommendation is to identify what are the key drivers of risk and opportunity that could potentially be improved with more measurements.”

He also adds that you should take a thousand measurements by hand to see if the data you harvest from that process actually makes any difference for your company. Once you understand how that does (or does not) help your business, then you should make a decision on using the internet of things.

IoT will be a megatrend in business. But only you can decide if it makes sense for yours.


How to Use Backpack Vacuums

Maybe you have a new cleaning team member. Maybe you finally convinced your boss that you need Vacuum Cleaner Hose in Handbackpack vacuums because they’re so much more efficient than their upright counterparts.

In either case, you have to introduce your team to backpack vacuums. They’re a little different than uprights. But your team will love them once they get used to them.

Here’s how to break the ice:

  1. Start Your Team Off Slow

You don’t know the true physical condition of each of your team members. You don’t want one to hurt their back and go on worker’s compensation.

So, start them off slow. Let them begin with just a single hour of backpack vacuuming. Then, allow them to move their way up to a full shift. This minimizes the stress on their body so they get used to it gradually, which minimizes their chance of injury.

They’re constructed to be fairly lightweight. But you never know the condition of each team member’s body.

  1. How to Wear the Backpack Vacuum

Each employee should grab the backpack vacuum off the floor with the hand they use most often, whether right-handed or left-handed. This minimizes strain and risk of injury when first putting it on.

Again, depending on the hand they use, your employees should leave the strap on the side of their body they favor just slightly loose. This frees up their stronger arm, which makes it easier to use and control the vacuum. The vacuum should not slide around on your back. If it does, it’s a little bit too loose overall.

  1. Keep Tools and Accessories on a Belt or Nearby Surface At Least Waist-High

Backpack vacuums are not designed to allow you to bend over while you wear the apparatus. However, some come with a belt that keeps tools in reach. You can also consider laying out the tools you need nearby on a surface that doesn’t require you to bend over to reach them.

Alternatively, you could simply leave all tasks requiring various tools until the end. That will make doing them as efficient as possible.

Once your staff sees how much faster they’re able to clean, they’ll love your backpack vacuums. They’ll be able to look over these minor adjustments.

New Technology Puts a Dent in Norovirus’s Ability to Infect Food

preparing food, organic food and drink photo

“Norovirus” sounds intimidating, and it is certainly unpleasant. But, it only causes unpleasant gastrointestinal problems (nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea) for a few days. While it’s certainly not the end of the world, it’s not something you want your customers to get. And, there’s currently no medication that effectively works against it.

But now, researcher Hamada Aboubakr has found an effective treatment for it: sterilization with cold plasma. The problem up to this point has been that whatever’s being sterilized can’t handle the process. Usually, it gets damaged to the point where it’s not edible anymore.

But, Aboubakr’s methodology works a little different. Be warned, as this gets a little complex to discuss.  Aboubakr used a two-dimensional air–based micro-discharge plasma array (2D-AMPA) which generates plasma from two dimensions in air instead of using pure gases. The methodology also uses lower power, which makes it cost-effective and environmentally friendly. This method can also be used for surface decontamination.

For Food Safety, The Results are Significant

Summing up the results, the basic idea is that this technology can be used to eliminate 99% of norovirus particles. Because of the way the process happens, it works on romaine lettuce without causing damage. And it’s believed the technology can be adapted for restaurants, cruise ships, and grocery stores. By extension, it could also logically be a great fit for your c-store and food items that hit your shelves.

Since about 20 million Americans get infected with norovirus each year, that makes it a prevalent condition in need of treatment. No one’s estimated the particular results that could be expected. But, it is believed this could put quite a dent in the 20 million annual infections in the US.

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open

How to Protect Your Staff from the Cold and Flu

Cleaning Supplies

The cold and flu are going around. Maybe your team already has one or the other. If you work in an industry where you have consistently high exposure to cold and flu viruses (education, hospitals, nursing homes), you may find yourself suddenly shorthanded.

Not much you can do about that now. You have to let your team rest and recover. But you can at least let this time serve as a lesson for identifying what your team can do differently in the future to prevent this from happening.

Here’s some ideas on protecting your own cleaning team’s health:

  1. Regular Training

How many times have you committed to breaking a habit, only to forget and find yourself doing that very thing just a few days later? This happens over a slightly longer timeframe in cleaning, but you get the point.

Your employees need regular reminders and training that shows them what to do to protect themselves from getting ill. How frequent? Why not a monthly reminder? And maybe weekly during times of crisis?

  1. Give Your Team Access to The Best Personal Protective Equipment

Would you rather spend some money on PPE now? Or would you rather have half of your team missing later (when you need them most) and feel the ire of staff who notice the trash hasn’t been taken out as often as it should be?

Make sure your team has rubber gloves, face masks, an abundance of microfiber cloths, the disinfectants they need to do a good job, and training on how they should handle themselves in the midst of a viral outbreak.

  1. What to Do When A Flu Outbreak Happens

Sometimes, an outbreak of a virus will happen around you. Nothing you can do to stop that in some situations. So, the best you can do is everything possible to protect yourself from acquiring the disease.

The CDC recommends you do three things in this situation:

  1. Get a flu vaccine. Ideally, you should already have this. But not everyone has one in all cases. Strongly consider getting one if you don’t already have it.
  2. Take preventative action in the workplace. This includes avoiding close contact with people, staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone if you’re already sick, never touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and washing your hands multiple times daily.
  3. If you get the flu, take antiviral drugs to quickly put an end to the condition. They can also prevent you from getting more severe symptoms.

It’s critical you have as much of your team as possible at all times. And following these tips will help you maximize your chance of having everyone available.

4 Ways to Ensure Food Safety at Your C-Store

Car Refueling at Gas Station during the Night

It goes through the mind of every c-store manager: what if something bad happens with your food safety, and you suddenly find yourself at odds with the FDA?

Such scenarios can happen, even if you work hard at keeping your food safe for your customers. Take a look at some of these tips, and make sure you’re implementing them at your c-store:

  1. Make Sure Your Team Knows Your Food Safety Procedures and Best Practices

It all starts with your employees. How often do you have them brush up on food safety best practices? If you have a regular routine in place, how do you reinforce this behavior on a consistent basis?

Do you reward your team for making less than a certain amount of mistakes? Everyone needs consistent practice (beyond your routine trainings) to stay at the top of their game so mistakes don’t happen.

  1. What’s Your Handwashing Policy?

Believe it or not, the simplest problems usually lead to the most food safety issues. That includes washing your hands. Do your employees wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after they handle raw meat?

In the medical care industry, professionals fail to wash their hands and cause hundreds of thousands of unnecessary or premature patient deaths annually. If the problem’s that prevalent in an industry where professionals should understand the importance of washing their hands, what might the true extent of it be in relation to your food’s safety?

  1. Educate Your Shoppers Too

Your shoppers do have some responsibility in the safety of their food too. They should refrigerate their food, and especially their meat, as soon as they get home. They should also wash their hands for seconds before and after they handle meat. And they should keep their meat products separate from all other food.

If they grab food that you keep hot, they should do so with a piece of wax paper, just in case they decide not to take that item. In-store signs and notifications through your app are two possible ways to fill them in on the dangers of not paying attention to food safety.

  1. Work with Suppliers You Trust

You can’t control what your suppliers do in relation to food safety. But you can have a conversation with them about how they do it. And if you don’t feel comfortable with your current supplier, you can change to a different one. Remember, when you have food safety issues that go public, you don’t get a pass, even if it was your supplier’s fault.

If you follow these 4 tips, you’ll keep your food safe at your c-store. And you’ll look good to your customers too.