Retail Delis Can Address Gaps in Food Safety

Key Takeaways from 5 Scientific Articles

Graphic image of a deli counter with a customer speaking to food worker.

Federal guidelines recommend several food safety practices for retail delis, but not all delis follow them.

Retail delis can address gaps in food safety practices by

  • Encouraging or requiring kitchen managers to be certified in food safety.
  • Providing food safety training to workers.
  • Monitoring and recording refrigerator temperatures.
  • Having written slicer cleaning policies.

Food safety programs can promote these food safety practices, especially among independent delis.

Why This Is Important

Listeria causes the third highest number of foodborne illness deaths in the United States each year. Listeria contamination of sliced deli meats is an important cause of illness and outbreaks.

Image of a food worker with a conversation bubble that reads "Take apart, clean, and inspect slicers every 4 hours".

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommend these food safety practices for controlling growth and contamination of bacteria like Listeria: 

  • Storing deli meats in refrigerators at 41°F or colder. Storing food at this temperature helps reduce bacteria growth.
  • Using sanitizer solution at proper concentrations for cleaning surfaces that contact food. Cleaning with sanitizer helps reduce bacteria.
  • Using undamaged slicers. Damaged slicers are harder to clean.
  • Cleaning and inspecting in-use food slicers every 4 hours. Cleaning at this frequency, and inspecting for damage and debris, can reduce contamination of food sliced on the slicers.
  • Keeping raw meat away from ready-to-eat food to prevent potentially contaminated raw meat from contaminating ready-to-eat food.
What We Did

EHS-Net looked at gaps in retail deli food safety practices and characteristics linked with better practices and published five articles on these topics. Knowing more about this can help delis and food safety programs reduce risk of foodborne illness.

What We Learned
Graphic image of a deli slicer.

Our studies found that many retail delis aren’t following recommended practices.

  • 1 in 6 delis had a refrigerator that was too warm.
  • 1 in 4 delis had sanitizer solutions at improper concentrations for cleaning surfaces that come into contact with food.
  • 3 in 5 delis had slicers that were damaged.
  • About half of delis did not fully clean their slicers every 4 hours.
  • Most delis inspect their slicers, but only 1 in 4 reported inspecting their slicers for damage every 4 hours.

Most delis had proper practices for storing and handling raw meat, but some did not.

  • 1 in 4 delis did not store raw meat in separate containers, bins, or trays away from ready-to-eat food.
  • 1 in 10 delis with a cold storage unit stored raw meat above ready-to-eat food.
  • 1 in 10 delis had potential cross-contamination of raw meat and ready-to-eat foods during preparation (for example, same knife used on raw meat and ready-to-eat foods without cleaning in between).

Retail delis were more likely to engage in these recommended food safety practices if they

  • Were chain delis.
  • Required kitchen managers to be certified in food safety.
  • Provided food safety training to workers.
  • Monitored and recorded refrigerator temperatures.
  • Had written slicer cleaning policies.
What Is EHS-Net?

This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.