Katy Jones, Foodlogiq
FST Soapbox

The Clock is Ticking: Technology to Effectively Manage Recalls

By Katy Jones
Katy Jones, Foodlogiq

Stay one step ahead by using whole-chain traceability for better supply chain visibility.

It seems there isn’t a day that goes by without a food recall being announced. National brands like General Mills, Kellogg’s and Kraft alone have all experienced major recalls over products contaminated with such hazards as E. coli or undeclared allergens in the last few months. Food recalls are incredibly costly to a company, but can be handled effectively and efficiently with good planning, proper execution and the right technology to back it up.

Fortunately, the food industry is moving in the right direction to encourage better recall management by way of regulations under FSMA. Underscored by these federal mandates, the industry as a whole is moving away from a reactive approach to quality and safety issues within the supply chain, instead adopting a preventative plan of action.

The Multiplier Effect: How One Ingredient Can Lead To Multiple Recalls | Learn more at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium | December 7-8 | Schuamburg, ILRecalls are inevitable in the food industry, and in reality every company has, or will, experience one at some point. What sets a company apart essentially boils down to how they prepare for and react to a recall situation. If a company has done its due diligence to prepare for the inevitable (i.e. putting a recall team in place and implementing the right traceability technology), dealing with a quality or contamination issue can be less painful. Additionally, taking the right preventative steps can ensure a recall situation is proactively handled, rather than leading to a brand’s nightmarish public meltdown.

Getting Beyond “One-up and One-Back”

The industry has relied on a more linear approach to supply chain transparency—the “one-up and one-back” method (OUOB). Knowing where a product has come from one step back in the chain and where it is being sent or sold one step forward is no longer enough. To properly prepare for a recall, and manage product quality, it is imperative that a company employ whole chain traceability software, rather than relying solely on the movement of product within its own four walls.

The OUOB traceability approach is especially dangerous when handling high-risk, perishable foods, like produce or meat—which are often the culprit for recalls. According to a recent study in the Journal of Business Logistics titled, “Tracing Bad Products in Supply Chains” by Kaitlin Wowak, assistant professor of management at Notre Dame, “perishable products, like fresh produce and meats, flow through the supply chain very quickly. And while federal regulations mandate that firms have traceability one step up and down the chain, this may not be sufficient for these perishable products. In those situations, there is often a gap in the information received about the product, say a positive Listeria test, and where that product went in the supply chain.”

Root Cause Analysis is Key

When faced with a recall situation, time is of the essence. The time it takes for the recall team to identify the root cause of an issue and remove it from the supply chain could be the difference between sick consumers and serious brand implications. Being fully cognizant of the entire supply chain via a whole-chain traceability solution allows you to visualize a contaminant’s exact location; this information ultimately helps a brand streamline and manage the issue quickly and effectively.

Wowak’s research profiles a series of recall scenarios. One that was studied found that 50% of the food removed from the supply chain during that recall was actually affected—the other half was perfectly fine. Take the example of a batch of tainted tomatoes in your supply chain. Without being able to identify the root cause at the lot level, a company might be forced to remove all of the tomatoes from its supply chain.

Rather, by utilizing end-to-end traceability software, they can identify the specific farm, pack date and lot from which the produce originated. Tracing that information through each step in the supply chain—hether the tomatoes ended up on a pizza, in a can of salsa, or in a farmer’s market—allows the brand to manage the bad products without disrupting their entire chain or wasting perfectly good produce.

Unfortunately, without the visibility of whole-chain traceability, companies do not have the option to cherry pick tainted vs. untainted food from their chain. This is especially relevant as up to 40% of food in the United States goes to waste, according to the NRDC.1

Centralized Recordkeeping

When faced with a safety or quality issue, communicating information to relevant parties is necessary throughout the process. Especially with FSMA coming into play, if a company experiences a quality issue, they must promptly notify regulatory establishments and be sure to submit documentation and data in an immediate manner for investigative purposes. This can be hindered if a brand does not have a good handle on their supply chain data and must spend hours sorting through file cabinets, emails, or Excel sheets for proper documentation, or coordinating with suppliers for records. The longer it takes to comply with federal regulations and submit data around a recall, the more likely consumers, and the brand, are at risk.

The industry’s shift towards a preventative approach to safety is hitting a milestone as FSMA compliance periods have already taken effect. With this change, the FDA will no longer tolerate poor handling of contamination or quality issues. A company cannot get away with blaming a partner’s lack of transparency, or a supplier’s inconsistent records— the brand is now always accountable. In the coming months, we can anticipate added scrutiny from auditors, more mandatory recalls, even the shutting down of facilities due to noncompliance or negligence around safety concerns.

Having a robust supplier management system in place enables a company to be prepared for a recall situation. With all of your product and supplier data in one place, companies can quickly gather and allocate necessary data like audits and assessments to the appropriate officials, complying with the new required recordkeeping rules. By streamlining the availability of key information, and supporting seamless communication, a brand can be empowered to navigate a quality or safety issue.

As testing across the supply chain increases and the demand for fresh food rises, recalls are not going away. Fortunately, the move to a preventative approach to safety comes at a time where traceability technology is more comprehensive than ever. Food companies have the opportunity to invest in themselves with end-to-end traceability, arming the brand for the inevitable occurrence of a safety or quality issue. By enhancing visibility of the supply chain via an all-encompassing whole-chain platform, it is possible to track a product through each stopover to the consumer, from farm to fork. At the same time, housing all data in one efficient platform can ease the pressure of liaising with supply chain partners and regulatory bodies and streamline communications when faced with a safety situation.

While recalls are an inescapable part of the food industry, what sets a brand apart is how well they prepare and arm themselves with the technology to stay ahead. Implementing supplier management and whole-chain traceability software can help a company stay one step ahead of a recall, which makes all the difference when consumer wellness and brand reputation are on the line.


  1. Gunders, D. (August 2012). “Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork in Landfill”. NRDC Issue Paper. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf

About The Author

Katy Jones, Foodlogiq


  1. Barry ines

    This artical is very informative, and to the point. I work as a Credit Manager / Inventory Control in a Indiana food service company. I pride myself on my ability to track product in case of a recall situation. Recalls can be a very costly issue if not handled properly, from the first notification you must “READ” or you may cut your own throat, Mfg. dates are very important, I am lucky to work for a company that utilizes a date tracking system, also being able to personally run a breakdown of any individual item, as to what day it shipped, what day it was recieved, and to whom we may have shipped, and what day. I agree the recall situation is never gonna go away, so we as food distributers must be prepared each day for those dreaded e-mails with the word ‘ RECALL ‘

  2. John E. Walsh

    Great post Katy. Food companies must commit themselves to invest much much more in technology and root out paper based documents and filing cabinets. Real time data is a must to prevent food recalls.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.