From the time they walk in the door, consumers and regulators are taking (mental) notes.
I walked into my pharmacy the other day to pick up a prescription. This is a national chain I’ve been with for the past decade and has served me well through several moves. I like the store, location and staff, most of which are very helpful and pleasant. However, if the store was dirty, too hot or cold, or disorganized I would consider taking my business elsewhere. Let’s face it, most of us who live in urban or suburban areas have a wealth of pharmacies from which we can choose. To make sure I’m happy my store of choice sends me an email survey link to make sure I’m satisfied with this store, the staff and their products. And I do fill the survey out; the staff deserves the accolades they have earned.
Figure 1. Modern pharmacies combine traditional prescription and OTC medication sales with convenience plus small department store items to become a full service outlet. (Link to Image)
One thing that would keep me away from any store is if it’s too hot. Food, beverage and convenience stores that are too hot are accelerating the degradation of the food and beverage products they sell. More importantly, pharmacies that are too hot and humid are degrading their room temperature medications and lead me to question whether or not their refrigerators and freezers are too warm. These products have clear specifications from the manufacturer for storage conditions, and high temperatures are a no-no.
Let’s start with the easy stuff, food stored at room temperature. Food products that do not require refrigeration are called “shelf-stable” foods by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Products include canned and bottled products as well as packaged products such as rice, pasta, flour, sugar, candy treats, baked goods, chips, and the like.
Canned, packaged or bottled food degraded or spoiled will exhibit poor or bad taste, smell or appearance.
For canned goods, the USDA notes, “High temperatures (over 100°F or 38°C) are harmful to canned goods too. The risk of spoilage jumps sharply as storage temperatures rise.” Link to Source These products should be stored in a cool, dry place with temperatures below 85°F (30°C). Canned and bottled food and drinks are not required by U.S. law to have date labels, however many do. Be sure to check if the date is “use-by” or “sell-by” to understand its usefulness. Packaged products, those in boxes, bags, etc. suffer even more with increased temperatures since most package materials are porous to oxygen which can degrade contents.
Canned and bottled foods may have a date stamp that can be helpful to insure product quality and safety. This information is based on a defined storage temperature, 70°F (21°C) for example. Links: Left Image Center Image Right Image
To insure food products stored at room temperature are not exposed to elevated temperatures, pharmacies can monitor store HVAC operation with automatic temperature monitors. This can accomplish two things. First, early warning of HVAC problems, air conditioner failure during hot summer days for example, will alert management of problems before they become serious, especially overnight when no one is in the store. Second, management will have a record of store temperature that can be reviewed for HVAC system operation optimization. Stores that run hot and can accelerate food breakdown or spoilage can make adjustments. More importantly, the HVAC controls can be adjusted to help optimize store temperature, potentially saving energy (money) where stores are too cold in summer or too hot in winter months. Most importantly, the customer will not be the one to point out when the store is too cold or hot, making them more likely to return to a well run operation. Customer loyalty is preserved.
Consumers and store personnel may want to take a look at two resources regarding shelf-life of food products. Besides sell-by or best-used-by dates, these guides from two universities with strong agricultural programs provide useful information both while shopping and at home.
University of Nebraska - Lincoln: https://food.unl.edu/safety/chart
Ohio State University Extension: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5401.pdf
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