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Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Insurance and Food Safety: A Primer for the C-Suite

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

Food safety risk is now a greater concern for retailers and manufacturers than ever before due to the combination of FSMA and increased consumer concerns. Supply chains are more complex, product recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks occur more frequently, and the new normal is prevention rather than inspection. Wrap that all up with advanced technology and the 24-hour news cycle, and consumers are acutely becoming aware of food safety issues as soon as they occur.

What this means for all of the participants in the global food supply chain is that you should review your insurance policies and look for gaps in coverage where you may be exposed. While no two recalls are the same, and foodborne illness outbreaks impact affected companies in different ways, certain trends have emerged to help better understand the claim friction points that frustrate companies after a food safety event.

Two of the most important tools to mitigate food safety risk are contaminated product insurance (CPI) and product recall insurance (PRI). Inventory, cost of refunds and recall expenses are three of the largest recall loss items suffered by companies. Combined, they are the largest percentage of loss (nearly 50%) and represent a substantial portion of uncovered loss for any insured under CPI/PRI. The sole basis for this frustrating friction point is simple—lack of traceability.

CPI/PRI only covers losses that result directly from a covered insured event. If a company is unable to support its claim that costs are directly related to the event and the resulting recall or outbreak, it will not be reimbursed under a CPI/PRI policy. And, as such, loss amounts are generally not covered under general liability and property policies either, so a significant portion of a company’s loss remains uncovered.

Here’s a recent claim example to illustrate the impact on a company that lacked the capability to properly trace its products. An insured purchased a CPI policy with a $2 million Accidental Contamination limit. An event occurred involving a contaminated food product, which triggered that coverage. During the review, the insured provided spreadsheets supporting nearly $1.1 million in customer credits for product shipped and either returned by the customer for disposal or destroyed by the customer. Unfortunately, based on a review of the information provided in support of the spreadsheets, the accountants found that the insured was unable to properly trace and support its claim that the returned or destroyed product was affected by the insured event recall. Under these circumstances, the accountants were only able to confirm $187,000 in losses. The result: The company was unable to recover nearly $1 million in potentially covered losses because it lacked traceability. These outcomes are not uncommon.

The insurance industry understands food safety risks and the need to evolve products to meet the needs of food industry clients. Companies can’t totally mitigate all food safety issues, but understanding the risks is the best way for a business to protect itself. Insurance industry leaders are working in partnership with their food sector clients to ensure that risks are better understood and that the client has appropriate systems in place to help mitigate them.

Insurance companies are tailoring their products to ensure that policies are developed to address the recall risks caused by regulatory changes and help companies ensure compliance as well as an understanding of the regulatory requirements. However, food companies may increasingly find coverage and limits adjusted lower for government recalls in high-risk environments. Insurers are also a key player in the promotion of food safety standards, and some offer favorable rates to food industry clients who are graded top tier for safety.

Some insurers go a step further, allowing clients to allocate a portion of their premium for pre-incident risk-analysis and crisis-response services. Top insurers provide clients access to a network of crisis management specialists as part of their food safety coverage. They should offer risk management guidance in areas such as food safety risk, regulatory compliance, supply chain management and product security.

One of the most critical risk mitigation tactics is developing long-term relationships with trusted, but verified, suppliers, distributors and other key partners. It is also important for companies to undertake regular site visits to their manufacturers or suppliers, and commission third-party audits to maintain reliability and transparency.

Not if, but when a product recall occurs, a company faces a myriad of risks. As with food safety, preventive planning can pay off significantly. By proactively working with insurers, trading partners and technology vendors you can reduce if not eliminate the negative impact of the event.