In 1960, Auto Mercado, the leading family-owned supermarket chain in Costa Rica, introduced the country’s first self-service supermarket. Now, Auto Mercado operates 21 large stores and 18 convenience stores, and has expanded the use and meaning of the word AUTO (“self” in English) to further engage its customers. Last year, the organization launched an educational campaign not only to reinforce the company´s brand but also to relate the concept to the consumer. Through the use of AUTO COMPROMISO and AUTO CONSCIENTE, this marketing lovemark in Costa Rica introduced key concepts around food safety and social responsibility that reflect the company´s values and its customers‘ concerns.

As with food safety, Auto Mercado believes that their promise to sell safe, top quality food does not end with a strong food safety system within the organization and its suppliers. The company’s customers, who are loyal consumers that have passed on their supermarket preference from generation to generation, are key food handlers.

This year, through this campaign, Auto Mercado has celebrated with their customers the first World Food Safety Day and has designed and sold color-coded thermal reusable bags (for raw meats and ready to eat foods), which include the Spanish version of The Food Keeper and refrigerator magnets to further illustrate the Five Keys to Safer Food recommended by the World Health Organization. Furthermore, on a monthly basis, the company issues printed and digital post card- like materials with practical, home use recommendations that portray AUTO COMPROMISO by:

• Organizing the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination

• Cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen environment and utensils

• Handling leftovers safely

• Acknowledging what not to do when preparing for a picnic or BBQ

• Preparing safe lunchboxes for children

• Handling reusable shopping bags to avoid cross contamination and protect the environment

• Knowing how to use a food thermometer and which cooking temperatures should I keep in mind

Additionally, Auto Mercado supports studies that suggest that when consumers follow recipes that incorporate basic food safety instructions, they significantly increase food safety behaviors. Therefore, all recipes shared by Auto Mercado have incorporated key food safety messages to reinforce food safety culture also at home. Using THE Safe Recipe Style Guide, Auto Mercado includes recommended wording for verification of cooking temperatures, handwashing, and avoiding cross-contamination when handling raw ingredients and washing produce.

Priscilla Leiva is a food safety manager for Auto Mercado.