But Kite says Costco takes it a step further. As an extra precaution, every night, after
the departments have been thoroughly
cleaned and sanitized, one of the fresh food
managers must inspect each one using the
SSOP checklist. The managers take turns
doing these inspections. “That’s so we can
have different sets of eyes looking to make
sure that we’re catching everything,” Kite says.
In the meat department, manager Chris
Mobley also shows me the SSOP checklist. “We
take this very seriously every single night and
every single morning,” he says.
For example, the meat department uses a
large, three-chambered sink for cleaning the
equipment and kitchenware. The first part has
jets like a hot tub, which circulate the water
and break down any leftover materials on the
items while washing them. The second chamber is for rinsing and the third is for sanitizing.
Walker says the sink adds the right amount of
sanitizer to the water automatically, but the
employees still check it regularly to make sure
it’s at the required 200 parts per million.
All of the fresh departments also have
buckets full of sanitizer and rags near each
food prep table. Costco requires them to be
changed out every two hours. “After the
cashiers never directly touch any of the
food, including the hot dogs. They use a
corner of the foil wrapper to position the
dog and then continue holding that corner
as they wrap it up.
At the station where members put
ketchup, mustard and onions on their hot
dogs, the condiments have locks on them so
that people can’t reach in and cross-contami-
nate them. Those dispensers are broken down
and cleaned every night. The soda machine is
cleaned nightly, too.
“It’s not easy keeping the standards where
the company has set them,” Walker says, “but
we are proud of what we do, and we think we
are one of the best—if not the best—in the
business at ensuring that we keep our members safe.”
My warehouse tour has shown the high
standards Costco has set for food safety.
Meeting those standards, Wilson explains, is
in the hands of the employees:
“As a result of our level 1 training, we’ve got 200,000 people
within Costco who understand food safety and work
hard at keeping things clean,
food safety procedures. Sierra Lopeman, the
Service Deli supervisor, points out several
examples of those steps.
The sink where the chickens are prepared
is cleaned and sanitized every 30 minutes, she
explains. In addition, the skewers are washed
and sanitized after each use.
Employees take great steps to ensure
that raw chicken never comes in contact
with cooked chicken—starting with the
clothes they wear. When employees are handling raw chicken, they wear blue smocks
and gloves. Those stay on until they have put
the chickens in the rotisserie ovens and
returned to the prep room. Then, they
immediately wash their hands, change into
red smocks (for cooked food) and put on
clean gloves. Next, they return to the oven
area and wipe down with sanitizer the oven
door handle, timer and any other surface
they previously touched.
“That process is unique to Costco,”
employees are done making an item, they
clear off the table, wash it and then sanitize
it,” Walker explains. “The sanitizer is our last
line of defense to ensure that nothing gets
Our next stop is the rotisserie chicken
area, which also has a comprehensive set of
One last point: Costco cooks its rotisserie
chickens to 183 F, while standard protocol is
165 F. “We cook it to a higher degree to make
sure that it’s safe,” Walker explains.
Off to the Food Court
The Food Court is our last stop, where
manager DJ Nogues explains the steps his
staff takes to keep food safe. For example,
keeping things at the right temperature, wash-
ing their hands, the basics.”
He adds that Costco’s Food Safety 2 course
exceeds most states’ food-handling certifica-
tion requirements. “In fact, a lot of the states
use our program for training,” he says.
“I am so confident in our employees and
the job they do. They work really hard to
ensure that all of the requirements are met
every day, no matter what. And they’re so
good at it. They’re always putting the member
first. And that’s what makes a great food
safety program work.” C
Left: Temperature checks of all fresh foods
are made every two hours.
Changing from blue smocks in the uncooked
section (right) to red smocks in the cooked
section (far right) is one of the ways to help
remind employees of the steps they must
always observe to avoid cross-contanimation.
Below: The sanitation standard operating
procedures checklist verifies that no step
has been missed.