Prepared meals are pretty much the busy person’s timesaving gold. Pick up something someone else made at the grocery store, spend less money than you would at a restaurant and have the option to get a way healthier dish than what you could make at home…what could be better?
Well, it seems like sticking to your own kitchen might be. As the Wall Street Journal reports, there’s sort of a “food-safety issue” going on, and none of the big chains seem to be immune to it. And, as the forecast for ready-to-eat prepared foods is predicted to reach a record-high $30.8 billion in retail sales, it’s a category that is clearly continuing to gain popularity—along with some problems.
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The numbers don’t lie: WSJ pegs that fresh prepared foods generated $15 billion in sales in supermarkets in 2005, a figure that has nearly doubled to approximately $28 billion last year. By the same measure, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that foodbourne illness outbreaks (with salmonella being the most common) in U.S. supermarkets more than doubled from 2014 to 2015.
Case 1: In June, Whole Foods received an FDA warning letter regarding their food-prep facility, which had some serious violations (including the evidence of listeria). Now, the chain has made over their approach, discontinuing the processing of meat, poultry and raw seafood in that kitchen and two others.
Case 2: Costco got into some trouble last year with both and E.coli outbreak and salmonella that was linked to celery in a prepared chicken salad and a rotisserie chicken salad.
While the evidence of these illnesses is still less than what occurs at restaurants, it does bring up some serious questions about if grocery stores need to really rethink how they are serving up these prepped meals. “Our stores have become mini restaurants and pubs,” Paul Marra, manager of food safety for Wegmans Food Markets Inc., told WSJ. “Prior to that, we basically sliced cold cuts and made a few salads.”
It might sound obvious, but the solution for lessening the threat seems to be a simple answer: more employee training. The article reports that the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association has logged 6,465 completed online food-safety courses taken by grocery workers through the end of August, up from a total of 2,987 for all of 2015.
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