“There’s never enough time to do something right the first time, but there’s always time to do it over.”

This quote, attributed to retired Gen. John W. Bergman, is one of my favorites when reciting something for business. Especially when I’ve heard the popular lament from produce managers, “We just don’t have the time.”

Listing tasks, setting time and listing priorities are inherent in managing produce departments.

If something is important in business, it is encompassed in a goal. And goals, as all good managers know, are to be written, scheduled and executed.

And fewer goals in running a produce stand are as important as this: Keeping the department clean.

A clean department is imperative to everything, including meeting safety and health guidelines. A clean produce department is appealing to customers. As much as dirt repels sales, a clean department instills consumer confidence and by extension, increased sales and profits.

Isn’t that reason enough to maintain a clean produce department?

The reality is that retail traffic takes its toll: Numerous stocking trips coupled with an environment choked with pallets, water, ice, dirt, cardboard, packing materials, and so much debris accumulates in very little time. It’s a wonder anyone even attempts to keep a produce stand clean.

I always divided sanitation chores into three segments: Things to keep clean daily, things to tackle on a weekly basis, and tasks to undertake on a quarterly basis.

Daily tasks are the most visible, things you shouldn’t even have to write down, including cleaning case mirrors, scale pans, table or chrome edges, table surfaces between stock rotation, as well as immediately cleaning any spills. If you feel a sticky surface, see a dusty shelf or cobwebs, you can bet your customers will too.

Weekly tasks can be incorporated into your daily to-do lists. Items such as tearing down and cleaning multi-deck shelves or wet rack cleaning are examples of weekly tasks. These are best scheduled after hours, on slower weekday nights.

Quarterly tasks, such as tearing down larger fixtures to clean and re-mat, are bigger jobs that are best tackled as part of an overnight re-merchandising reset, when you’re already committed to a seasonal change. If you’re doing these types of resets (as most produce managers do) you’re wasting an opportunity if you skip the cleaning step.

It’s not easy, incorporating cleaning into an already hectic (and tight) labor schedule. However, it’s as important as any other aspect of managing a produce operation. Talk to your store manager for support and commit to a regular cleaning regimen.

As they say in the Navy, a clean ship is a happy ship.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at lobatoarmand@gmail.com.


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