Product recalls occur all around the world and are a major threat to public health. Food recalls are predictable and can be avoided and there is a lot that can be done to prevent the occurrence. What one should know about food recalls, what does it mean when it occurs, why do recalls happen and finally what can be done about them are a few questions to be answered.
Protecting oneself from Food Recalls
What is a product recall?
Any voluntary or forced act to remove food, from any stage in the supply chain considering consumer protection, safety and public health. The recall might take place at any level, may it be from the consumer, store, distributor, or the organization itself. Its prime purpose is to keep customers safe by eliminating affected products from the supply chain.
Why is food recalled?
A product can be affected by a variety of reasons and circumstances at any point in the supply chain. As a result, the start or detection can occur while the product is still in the processing stage. Contamination, adulteration, mislabeling, flaws, allergenic, physical, or chemical damage pose a concern to the consumer or the organization, prompting a food recall. It is handled with consideration for the potential impact on the recipients. For example, a product may not be recalled due to a minor factual error on the label that poses no risk to the user if consumed.
In a survey conducted by Consumer Brands Association, the average food recall costs approximately $10 million.
Any recall changes the perception of the brand from the consumer point of view. In a poll over concern of consumers on food recalls
Food recalls happen due to the following reasons
- The food is contaminated with bacteria like Ecoli, salmonella and listeria. CDC declares a foodborne outbreak
- The product contains ingredients not mentioned in the label. This could pose a problem to people who are prone to food allergies.
- There could be adulterants in food like foreign objects that could be plastic, glass and metallic elements.
Who recalls these foods and what are the commonly foods recalled?
The government agencies like US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) normally issue food recalls. The USDA recalls poultry, meat eggs or products made from them when they are suspected to be contaminated. The FDA recalls when doubts arise about other food including pet food and animal feeds. Besides the microbial contamination which makes people sick, allergens, adulteration and mislabeling are also a potential risk.
Check the famous product recalls that have happened globally and in India
The degree of health hazards, the volume of impact, exposure, the risk involved, and the consequence post recall, are all aspects to consider before launching a recall. The impact can take place within the organization or while in transit or after reaching the customer. Therefore, detection time plays an important role in the volume and effect of the recall.
FDA has presented a classification to indicate the relative degree of the health hazard of the product being recalled or considered for recall.
- Class I – a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
- Class II – a situation in which use of, or exposure to, a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote.
- Class III – a situation in which use of, or exposure to, a violative product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.
What should we do if we have bought a recalled product?
- Check the package label that mentions the batch number to identify the contaminated lot
- Do not consume a recalled product and preferably return it to the vendor
- Isolate the contaminated product so that it does not affect the other food.
- In case the recalled food has already been consumed, look out for symptoms and contact the doctor.
According to WHO, one out of 10 people get a foodborne illness every year and 420000 die as a result of this.
Does traceability avoid food recall?
FDA implemented the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011 to hande the food safety issues in USA by responding to foodborne illness and preventing them. Technology has helped companies to identify the problems and remove food items from the shelves immediately. Traceability is an important tool that helps in recall management.
Traceability is the ability to follow the movement of products through production, processing and distribution. It involves the documentation and linking of these processes both upward and downward in the supply chain. It is used as a tool in identifying and reducing hazards like contamination, diseases, spoilage, etc.
Yes, traceability does help avoid food recall, as it records data during each process and links it back to the original processing creating a pathway for tracing the product. A few of its best practices are,
- Traceability system should be in sync with the supply chain creating an agreement between parties regarding identification and traceability.
- Both internal and external traceability systems have to be maintained creating a link between participants to formulate a tracking system between physical products and recorded data.
- A unique identification mark has to be prepared per batch/lot/product based on organization and supply chain needs.
- This unique code has to be maintained the same throughout the supply chain through value additions and processes.
- One-step-forward and one-step-backward tracking systems have to be maintained throughout.
- Data recording at every input and output point has to be maintained through product processing, distribution and until it reaches the consumer.
The above isn’t an exhaustive list for efficient traceability, it majorly depends on aspects like the size of the firm, regulatory principles, needs within the organization, consumer demands, location and infrastructure available. As supply chain managers, the recording of appropriate information for traceability is vital.
Checklist for product recall
Let’s take a look at the process, from the perspective of an organization that has decided to conduct a recall and the procedures it must take. To understand the recall procedures better, we will cumulate them with an example.
Identify the safety concern.
When a product risk is identified either by the public or an organization, it is first handled by employing consumer safety measures.
Let’s take an example from June 2015 India, where Nestlé’s Maggie, was asked to be withdrawn by FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) reporting, the inclusion of lead and Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) contents in their product. When this became a national wide issue, Nestlé decided to take products off the shelves across India.
Notify the stakeholders – producers, manufacturers, and retailers.
It is a process that every recall has to follow, i.e. informing every stakeholder about the present recall. This is done to plan the recall and stop further production and sales.
Nestlé was about to attempt its largest recall in history, recalling about 27,420 tonnes of Maggie noodles from 5 factories, 38 distribution centers, 1400 distributors and 3.5 million retail outlets across India.
Stop production and isolate the products to be recalled.
Identifying the products that have issues and stopping the production until the present issues are being resolved is to be enforced.
In the case of Nestlé, Maggie wasn’t its only product, hence they had to execute the noodle recall as well as manage the other production line.
Notify the Regulatory agency
When a voluntary recall from the market is being executed by the organization, regulatory agencies like FASSAI, FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) are to be informed. But when a public complaint or when the public is in threat, the regulatory bodies interfere, ordering a product recall.
This was the case with Maggie where FASSAI interfered taking into account the complaint from the food inspector at the Uttar Pradesh government’s Food Safety and Drug Administration.
Prepare a distribution list
A distribution ledger has to be prepared involving product code, batch/lot number, stakeholder’s holdings, address and contact details. Recalled products are to be accounted for through this ledger using a distribution record system.
Notify customers, mentioning the course of action
Customers must be notified of the recall and its procedure via press releases, advertisements, and letters to agencies and distributors. It must be communicated on how products are recalled and what role customers should play. In addition, a telephone hotline service for any questions must be established.
Control recalled products and decide what needs to be done with them
Control of recalled products refers to the central site where the recalled products are kept, this must be a separate area from other food products and the amounts of recalled food have to be exactly recorded. After recovery, products can be corrected, repurposed, or destroyed. Records of actions have to be reported to the authority.
Nestlé decided to mix Maggie with fuel and subjected it to high-temperature thermal destruction in cement kilns. The process was approved by the Indian government.
Fix the cause for recall
Control and quality checks should be implemented, ensuring the prevention of similar recalls in the future.
Food recalls have not been eliminated as a result of technological developments in the food management sector, but they have been reduced and performed more efficiently. Traceability software has simplified the process, complementing the company’s superior recording and management system.
Blockchain powered traceability provides the right solutions for addressing food insecurity and ensuring proper Recall management.
Check how Blockchain helps to address Food Recalls
TraceX’s blockchain powered end to end traceability solutions provides transparency in the supply chain and tracks data on real-time basis and stores them in digital ledgers to help identify the contaminated lots and their easy removal, in situations of food recall.