The condition of food products from farm-to-table must maintain the required levels of quality to achieve food integrity. According to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) UK, food integrity is “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished or in perfect condition.”
Though food integrity is famously attached to food safety, it is more than that, especially in the food retail industry. For customers, food integrity relates to their subjective opinion driven by their usage of four senses—sight, taste, touch, and smell.
Likewise, from food processing to merchandising food products in retail stores, retailers also play a huge role in food products’ integrity. What are the factors affecting food integrity in stores, and what can retailers do to control them? Here are a few key thoughts:
Gone are the days when lighting is just used for aesthetic purposes in retail stores. Now, lighting schemes play an important part in product integrity. Poor quality lighting has detrimental effects on products. Poor lighting can accelerate product discoloration and raise ambient temperatures in the store, resulting in the rapid dehydration of seafood products and the promotion of bacterial growth.
Where and how food products are displayed in supermarkets is crucial for product freshness and shelf life. This is where refrigerated display cases come into play, especially when it comes to perishable foods. Aside from display cases prolonging shelf life, they also preserve the products’ aroma, feel, texture, and color. For example, when it comes to perishable meats, the right display cases are critical to ensuring optimal conditions for controlling their tissue temperature and moisture content—the primary drivers of shelf life and product shrink.
For frozen food products where maintaining the right temperature is very important, the cold chain greatly contributes to food integrity. This is especially true for products like ice cream, for which the temperature from manufacturing to retailer freezer cases should not exceed -4°F (- 20°C). Any deviation from these specifications will affect the product’s texture.
How Can Retailers Reinforce Food Integrity?
Food integrity is borne from a holistic effort to improve products and make them more attractive to customers. Retailers can reinforce food integrity by making sure their operations, practices, and equipment used to store and display merchandise meet the retail needs when it comes to efficiency and practicality. For lighting, LED lights are the most energy-efficient option that can be installed on shelves and are safe for food products, promote a longer life span, and require less maintenance. Choosing the right display case is also critical when storing temperature-sensitive food. Cold chain requirements in the entire transportation process must be strictly monitored by retailers in order to achieve optimum food integrity and lessen food waste.
Food integrity, by and large, concerns food retailers of all sizes. As the industry continues to evolve, the reach of “integrity” is not limited to just the food but extends into every aspect of operations that involve a “touch” with the customer. Accomplishing these objectives is critical to meeting customer expectations—and to winning and surviving in the end.