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

Doing a good job is so much more than just trying to do so.

I’m sure the temporary referees that the National Football League recently installed are trying their best, for example, but all it takes is one Monday morning at the office water cooler to hear what fans really think about all the questionable calls.

It goes back to what my silver-haired mom (and everyone’s mom, I’m sure) used to say, “If you’re going to do a job, do it right or don’t bother!”

Take for example the average vegetable case (green rack, wet rack) cleaning in produce departments. It’s a rare chain that does this simple procedure correctly.

In the chains I’ve supervised, many produce managers, when pinned down on the subject, said, “We clean one section (4 feet) every week.”

So even if they were on schedule (they weren’t), it would take 15 weeks to clean a 60-foot rack. On average, if a produce department cleaned their entire case using this piecemeal procedure, it would be cleaned three times a year.

Yuck.

This is no way to clean a fresh produce case. Anyone who has ever torn apart a vegetable rack knows what lies beneath: all the muck and slime from vegetable remnants that regularly fall between all the shelves and case liners.

Because vegetables arrive with bits of dirt, the misting system rinses the resulting mud into the base of the rack. Lots of mud. So if a store cleans a token section of case at a time, whatever mud is in the rest of the case simply backflows into the “clean” section. Talk about counterproductive.

The only effective way is to pull every item weekly. Tuesday night usually works well. Then every divider, display tray, case liner, rack and everything down to the drains is removed, cleaned and sanitized. The mirrors and the front panels of the case get wiped down too. Afterwards, the process is reversed, and the rack is reassembled, ready for the set-up person to start fresh the following morning.

Is this possible? I should know. I was the bottom-seniority, rack cleaner for several years. And I stripped and cleaned the case (usually alone) every week. Our labor plan was as tight as anything I see today too, and we got it done.

In a time where health and safety precautions are a top priority, it only makes sense to do this job completely and thoroughly on a regular basis. If you wait for a health department inspection, it could cost you far more in the long run.

“It’s a fresh, food-selling environment,” a produce manager I worked for once said. “We have to keep things clean.”

Good call.

Note: Next week Rusty Blade chimes in about setting up that freshly cleaned wet rack.

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.

armandlobato@comcast.net

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