How Safe is Grocery, Deli, Convenience Service Station Food?

Perhaps you read the heartbreaking story of a father who ate nacho cheese from a gas station and died from botulism. 

Clostridium botulinum is the technical name for the bacteria that releases a toxin causing botulism. It is an uncommon, almost rare form of food poisoning. But is often universally deadly indeed.

Most of us have done it. We have grabbed a quick hot dog from a convenience store or gas station. We’ve picked up a quick salad from a grocery store deli. Perhaps we’ve grabbed some fruit from the grocery store and eaten it on the way home before washing it. All of these scenarios carry a risk of food borne illness.

Part of the reason there is food borne risk is that gas station attendants, convenience store attendants, deli attendants in small grocery stores are food handlers that are often under-trained. It’s not a great surprise. These hard-working people are often paid minimum-wage and work part time. The employer is operating a budget on a slim margin and is often more focused on a quick in and out sale. Serving food is only a minor part of their job description. Yet it is critical they know the fundamentals of food safety.

Clearly food handler training for this subgroup is important. But is the training convenient? Is it cost-effective? And is it mandated by any organization?

I was in a local branch of a national Grocer and “caught” an employee appropriately decked out with head, beard and glove protection. I was impressed. Not all facilities that serve food have the resources for such training., through a strategic partnership with, is offering free online food server and food preparer courses in English, Spanish and Chinese. These courses have competency quizzes associated with them.

You can support this effort by visiting and DONATE to this great cause.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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