I visited Kallang Wave Mall recently (for the very first time!) and went on a learning journey at the FairPrice Xtra outlet where I got to meet some members of the Store Assurance Team from the Food Safety and Quality department, commonly known as FSQ. The team helps ensure all FairPrice stores are in compliance with the ISO 9001 and ISO 22000 international standards for quality and food safety.
I shop at FairPrice outlets at least once a week, so I was quite surprised that I could learn new things about how FairPrice continually improves its internal processes and productivity initiatives to benefit both customers and staff! Read on…
For a start, what do you think this is?
I’d honestly thought it was mood lighting of sorts. And I’d usually not even notice it, or give it a second look because it just looks like a mildly pretty lamp?
#1: Fly Traps Which Look Like Mood Lighting
These are fly traps which are very ‘low profile’ (you’ll hardly even notice them) but use ultraviolet light and a pheromone trap to attract fruit flies and other flying pests. Quite a pretty fly trap, no? And these devices have a decent working radius – one model I found online works over a 450 square foot area. I’ve been to many supermarkets in JB and I tend to encounter flies there, but not in Singapore’s FairPrice outlets! And I guess it’s because of these hardworking fly traps!
#2: Glass Doors Everywhere! For 20% Energy Savings!
In some (older) FairPrice outlets, you’ll see more of those “open-air” chillers, which I suppose end up requiring more electricity than these ones in the newer hypermarts (i.e. FairPrice Xtra outlets). Apparently, having these doors result in 20% (or more) energy savings. When you’re shopping there, do decide on what you want to get before opening the doors and retrieving the items ok? I know the weather is hot, but do not open the chiller doors for a blast of “air-conditioning”, ya? *wink*
#3: Surprising Signs Warning Against Absolutely Surprising Behavior
No. I cannot understand why this sign has to be put up. You mean there are people who would OPEN ice cream tubs in FairPrice outlets?! I was told that, sadly, yes, just as there are people who would probe and poke seafood, fruits, vegetables, and other perishable foods, there are people who OPEN ice cream tubs to check what’s inside. Are they afraid there’ll be one missing scoop of their favorite chocolate ice cream? Or that the ice cream is not really frozen inside? I wouldn’t know. But if you are one of these not-easily-trusting customers, please don’t do this anymore ok? It’s not hygienic.😛
#4: Temperature Monitoring For Both Hot And Cold Foods
The FSQ Store Assurance Team conducts regular checks to ensure that guidelines are being adhered to. Meanwhile, the individual stores also do their own checks and even have Temperature Control Charts. At regular intervals throughout the day, staff will check on the temperature of the fish beds, standalone freezers, chillers, etc. Also, products in the freezers must not exceed the load lines so as to ensure that the temperature is kept at an optimum level.
Constant checks to ensure your cool treats are stored in good condition:
#5: Freshness Is Of The Utmost Importance!
I spotted these at a checkout counter one day:
And I was told that certain items would not be returned to where they belong (e.g. chillers / freezers) if customers change their minds and do not want to buy them. FairPrice will just write these off. I find this very reassuring because some customers may have walked around the store with this White Snapper Steak for an hour, and finally decided not to buy it. If it’s returned to the chiller at that point, do you know how much bacteria would have multiplied already? Baskets abandoned by customers can easily cause a food safety issue such as if you return the milk cartons you took after walking around the store for an hour! (@_@)
So if you don’t want the items anymore, do not return them to the chiller or freezer for the next unsuspecting customer. Perhaps hand it over to staff instead or leave it with the cashiers. And if you’ve also noticed, the live seafood displayed in tanks are usually in clean tanks without overcrowding and with no dead seafood in them too. As a customer, I truly have peace of mind shopping at FairPrice.
~ Other Not-So-Surprising But Equally Cool Stuff ~
If you don’t already know, some outlets offer complimentary ice packs so do get some for your car/bus/train ride home. If I’m shopping for groceries, I’ll go select the non-chilled, non-frozen items (e.g. fruit, vegetables, etc) FIRST before picking up the meats and seafood and heading straight to the cashier, and then home. I take some ice with me for the seafood and meats whenever it is available.
The FSQ Store Assurance Team also does checks on product expiry dates and weight checks on your fruits and vegetables, among other quality checks. Also, I was pleased to note that the less-pretty fruits are sold in a value pack at S$2 each. I bought one consisting of red apples, green apples, oranges and lemons. A very good deal indeed! There’s variety, and it’s great for juicing, really.
[ Gentle Reminder: Keep chiller and freezer doors closed please! ]
~ FSQ Store Assurance Team: A Cool Job Or A Tough One? ~
#1: Using technology to be more productive
Previously the team had to audit each store using the hard copy audit checklist then take time to transfer the audit results to a computer and generate reports back in their office before sending to the stores. (Just FYI, there are about 200-odd audits done in 1 year. And an audit of a hypermart can take up to 1 day).
To improve staff productivity and help them do their jobs in a more efficient manner, the team now audits using tablets and an app which was developed in-house. The team can instantly take photographs of anything that needs to be improved upon.
With the use of technology, not only does the team save time per audit, the stores could receive the clear images taken during the audit process and rectify issues faster too.
#2: Ensuring everyone is on board for food safety
There are certain challenges the team has to handle such as with working with multiple departments to ensure standards are upheld. For instance, the team has to work with staff who do the store design and maintenance, and co-ordinate with those who work in the training department, operations, etc.
FairPrice also conceptualizes and provides food safety posters for customers to reference.
There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained on the job, such as how there are only LED lights near food areas ‘cos these lights will not shatter. (The older FairPrice stores still use their fluorescent lightbulbs but with plastic sleeves over them)
#3: Auditing everything from temperatures to store cleanliness
The team essentially works hand-in- hand with the individual stores to provide a safe shopping environment for customers, and provide them with quality products that meet international food safety standards.
With regard to temperature-sensitive products, for instance, the individual outlet’s staff will check the temperature when the products are received, ensure they are properly stored within the chiller or freezer in the ‘backyard’ and then replenish these items within the ‘selling area’ when stocks are low. The FSQ Store Assurance Team comes in and does their audits to ensure everything is running well.
There are internal quality audits of the store, backyard, etc. They check on storefront cleanliness, expiry control and even send samples of some products to the labs for testing.
FairPrice outlets also receive their own performance scorecard which will incentivise stores with rewards, e.g. for the food safety champions, and provide improvement programs for those outlets which are not doing well.
#4: Focusing on staff learning and progression
There are a total of 6 teams: (1) Store, (2) Food (3) Non-food and BET (Bazaar, Electronics, Textiles), (4) Warehouse, (5) Regulatory, (6) Fresh foods in the Food Safety and Quality department. Staff can enjoy career progression in rank and there is also rotation among teams. Best of all, there is an 80% Singaporean core. *wink*
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, a lot of effort has gone into ensuring food safety standards at FairPrice. I’m definitely grateful that I can shop with peace of mind, thanks to the diligence of these hardworking men and women…