fied and continues to look for ways to reach
every last member.
From left: Assistant buyer Justin Knapp, Quality Assurance Lab manager Robin Forgey and tech support Sandy Wang.
Whether they’re at the cash register, in
receiving or boxing your purchases, all warehouse employees are versed in food safety.
All managers, both food and non-food, and
even buyers, must take an all-day class and
pass a stringent, nationally recognized food-safety exam.
Standard sanitary operation procedures
for all food-related processes are detailed and
specifically written for Costco warehouses,
with instructions for every task, from how to
clean the frozen-yogurt machine to how to
receive temperature-controlled products into
Every day a warehouse staff manager
inspects all areas of food production and
performs a comprehensive food-safety
walk-through of each location, beginning
with observing the inside perimeter of the
building, then the coolers and the freezers,
and checking everything from temperature
logs to hand sinks. Violations are noted and
attended to immediately.
includes reviewing Costco bakery, food court
and deli items, can ascertain each product’s
quality as well as its authenticity.
The test-and-hold program
Testing, by itself, is not enough. That’s why
all of Costco’s food-safety testing, for both
Costco and its suppliers, is performed on a
“test-and-hold” basis. What exactly is test-and-hold? Before a supplier can ship ready-to-eat foods, be it sliced meats or cut fruit, the
facility must test the product for pathogens
and hold it on its premises until the tests come
back negative. Only then can it be shipped.
All ready-to-eat produce, for example, is
tested for microbial integrity. Costco’s suppliers of bagged salads, cut apples and baby carrots are required to test their products for a
range of bacteria at their facilities. No product
can be shipped to Costco until the tests have
been completed and the results are in.
If there are any issues, the product can’t
be shipped, and the facility must review its
food-safety processes to identify and correct
the problem. “The test-and-hold program
has been so valuable, it’s moving into all
aspects of ready-to-eat foods outside of meat
and produce where it hasn’t been used in the
past,” says Christine.
becomes public knowledge. When Costco
becomes aware of a recall, the company acts
quickly. Potentially harmful products are
immediately pulled off the floor, while at the
same time phone calls— 1 million per hour—
can be made to members who have purchased the product.
Even if there is only a suspicion that there
might be a problem with a product, Costco
will pull it from warehouse shelves and hold it
until the concern can be confirmed or refuted.
Information is posted online, members are
called and letters are mailed. Costco has a 90
percent member contact rate, but it’s not satis-
The future of food safety
Every year Costco reviews supplier
audits— 4,000 food-safety audits and 5,000
produce audits—all performed by third-party
auditors. Costco even insists on shadow audits
(audits of auditors) to verify processes and procedures. The audit program is unique in the
industry and includes a multitude of in-depth
assessments. If a supplier can’t meet the
requirements, Costco will not buy its products.
Of course, no program is perfect.
“Nothing in food safety is 100 percent,” says
Craig. His team is now investigating new
technologies to improve testing and exploring
social media to improve communication.
“Food safety is not static,” echoes Christine.
“We are constantly looking for ways to make
our system better.” C
Tracy Schneider lives with her husband and
daughter in Washington state.
Because of its very close working relationships with suppliers, Costco often learns
of a food-safety concern even before it
Qualitative DNA testing is used to authenticate products. Is the white fish that’s labeled mahi-mahi really mahi-mahi?