How Walmart’s SPARK Keeps Your Food Fresh

By Frank Yiannas
January 12, 2015
Shoppers scan the offerings at the Walmart Deli counter

When customers look at rotisserie chickens in a Walmart store deli, many are likely thinking about recipes and what to make for dinner. They’re probably not thinking about whether that chicken has been cooked and kept at an appropriate temperature, because they know they can trust Walmart to keep food safe. But while food safety in the U.S. today may seem like a given, there’s actually a lot that goes into making it a reality.

At Walmart, that’s where our Sustainable Paperless Auditing and Record Keeping (SPARK) system comes in — a dynamic tool featuring cutting-edge technologies we’re using to ensure foods meet the highest standards of safety, and in many cases, exceed them.

Using Bluetooth communication, state-of-the-art temperature measuring devices and sophisticated software, SPARK is a handheld device that allows Walmart associates to manage a variety of tasks that ultimately create a safer food environment for customers. For example, it sets up reminders and checklists so that associates can monitor the temperature of the cases within the deli department – keeping cold things cold and hot things hot. And if for some reason a task isn’t performed correctly, it offers ways to fix it.

Before SPARK, these kinds of food safety checks had to be logged individually, by paper or on computer. But now, all of the information is automatically uploaded to a web-based recordkeeping system, making things a lot easier for our associates. By helping us log an immense amount of real-time data, SPARK also helps us identify patterns or trends that ensure customers are purchasing food products that are not just safe, but premium quality.

Here’s one interesting way that works: In one month, government health inspectors visited our stores across America to check the temperature of our rotisserie chickens 10 times. In that same period, Walmart also worked with a private inspection firm to check our rotisserie chickens in stores about 100 times. Through SPARK, however, we were able to record 1.4 million internal cooking temperatures of rotisserie chickens on our own. Clearly, we use these insights to prevent undercooking chickens, but we can also use them to ensure we’re not overcooking them, too – so that we serve up the freshest, juiciest chicken customers want to serve their families.

We project that nationwide, we do about 60 million food safety checks per year with the SPARK system, which is used in all Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs across the United States. That’s an achievement we’re excited about, and it’s all in the name of giving our customers the excellent products they expect to find at Walmart.