The Importance of Food Recall Procedures

If you’re a frequent user of social media or watch the news, you will see a post or news story announcing yet another food recall. Just recently, a breakfast wrap product was recalled in the U.S. because it ‘might’ contain rocks. Food recalls are all too common, but how much do you know about why they happen and how to proceed in the event of a food recall?

Why Does Food Get Recalled?

While it’s difficult to imagine how rocks would get into your food, there are many different reasons that food is recalled. Depending on the situation, the food recalls are either requested by the government agencies that oversee food safety due to customer complaints or a voluntary recall by the company based on a factory worker’s disclosure.

Some of the reasons a food product might be recalled include:

  • Foods are contaminated with foodborne pathogens (salmonella, E. coli, etc.)
  • Foreign objects discovered in food such as rocks, plastic and so on.
  • Food contains a major allergen that isn’t listed in the ingredient list or label

A foodborne illness outbreak occurs when more than two people fall sick with the same illness from eating or drinking a specific food or beverage. An example of a foodborne illness is a catering company serving undercooked chicken causing guests to become sick with salmonella.

Once a foodborne outbreak has been discovered, public health officials must be informed so they can control the outbreak to prevent the illness from spreading. The discovery of the cause of the outbreak can help prevent future outbreaks.

Foodborne illnesses aren’t the only cause of a recall. Manufacturers frequently inspect and test their products even after the product has gone to the store shelves. During these inspections, package mislabeling and other hazards can trigger a voluntary recall before customers are affected.

Food recalls – either forced or voluntary – are meant to ensure consumer safety and brand reputation. What does that mean?

Cost of Food Recalls

Food recalls can set a company back from anywhere between $10’s and $100’s of million. This number is based on both direct costs and indirect costs of the food recall. The direct costs include removing the product from store shelves, destruction of the product, loss of revenue due to unsalable product and the additional labor costs. An in-depth investigation into how and why the food became contaminated is also part of the direct cost.

Indirect costs to the company can be just as significant. Indirect costs include any litigation costs, lost sales, mandated oversight from the governmental agencies and most importantly, the loss of consumer confidence. Brand reputation is essential to staying in business.

A popular restaurant in the United States, Chipotle, suffered five foodborne illness outbreaks during the course of one year. The company is still trying to recover its image and reputation. These outbreaks cost the restaurant chain over $1 billion dollars combined. While Chipotle never had a chance to recall food items, it’s proof that it is very difficult for a company to regain the customer’s trust after a food safety issue.

What is a Food Recall Strategy?

Simply put, a food recall strategy is a plan involving the steps that a company would take in the event of a food recall. Not all food recalls are treated the same. The severity of recalls are classified by the level of risk to the public if the food is consumed.

The first step in the recall procedure is to inform the customers of the recall. Contacting the governmental agency that oversees food safety is the second step. Once these two steps have been completed, the overall recall strategy is implemented.

Your recall plan should address the following:

  • Assessment of consumer safety (recall level)
  • Details of the foods involved in the recall
  • Description of the issue with the product
  • Number of affected units of the product
  • Number of consumer complaints or injuries, if any
  • Information on exports of the product, if applicable
  • Recovery procedures (how the company will retrieve and destroy product)
  • Distribution network contact information
  • Factors that may extend the length of the recall

Importance of Food Recall Procedures

A predetermined set of food recall procedures allows companies to act quickly and efficiently when an issue with food products arises. With the prevalence of social media, there are more ways than ever to reach consumers. There is also the pervasiveness of “fake news” that is widely shared on social media without corroboration.

A percentage of a good food recall plan is damage control. Food recalls can sully the brand’s reputation, even if the recall is voluntary and no one is injured. Food recall procedures are imperative to having any chance of regaining the consumer’s trust and continued patronage.

Many consumers often choose to ignore food recalls, but food recall procedures help protect companies from the liability of that decision.

FoodSafe was created based on HACCP regulations and therefore helps monitor and reduce any risks of an outbreak. FoodSafe also provides live updates and notifications in case of any conformance issues.