Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Who first said, “A clean ship is a happy ship?”

My guess (besides everyone’s mother) is the first produce manager — who used to be a skipper in the Navy.

I am big believer in cleanliness. When I travel I’m careful to be neat and tidy. I make sure any trash is picked up before I check out. It’s too easy to overlook a forgotten charger or an electronic device hidden underneath a newspaper.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a natural-born Felix Unger. I’m not. Like most guys I’m a slob. I have to constantly work on keeping things orderly and clean. As a produce manager, this concentration must be an ongoing effort.

The clean and happy ship has its merits.

First, a produce department is a food environment. An exceptionally clean operation should reflect this, especially in an age of tough health department inspections.

If you don’t have an ongoing program of what gets cleaned on quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily and more frequent basis, get with your supervisor to set one up. When sanitation elements are built into the daily routine, it helps keep an operation from falling behind.

Second, cleanliness is a safety factor. Most injuries in a produce department are a result of slip-and-falls of employees and customers. Keep floors clear of debris, water and ice. A consistent routine of attending to this will help minimize accidents that can be easily prevented.

Third, a clean produce department helps productivity. Ever hear the phrase, “It is not the distance of the journey but the pebble in my shoe that slows me down?” Keep those pebbles (and other obstacles) out of the way so clerks can work unimpeded.

Fourth, a clean environment helps sales. Spills, dirt and other gunk repel sales. Take a look at each display as you work. Is the table surface clean? How about the scales nearby? A clean produce department sends a powerful message to shoppers: If the sales area is clean, they will naturally make similar associations with the produce you are selling — clean and fresh.

Finally, a clean department instills a sense of pride. When a produce department is clean and organized, clerks are far more likely to take ownership of their tasks. They are more apt to contribute to keeping things clean and making sure that everything they do during their shift is done with a sense of urgency, care and with a positive attitude.

When a gum wrapper is on the floor of a messy operation, no one even notices, but if the same wrapper ends up on the floor of a neat and clean produce aisle, everyone will be inclined to pick it up.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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