Last year, nearly 550 food products were recalled in the United States. Nearly half of those recalls were a result of biological contamination, a whopping 65% of which was due to Listeria monocytogenes, according to Rentokil. The company recently released an infographic about the cost of a product recall, pulling out some of the key trends in food product recalls in the United States and the United Kingdom. Next to biological contamination, mislabeling continues to be a large issue.
Food Safety Tech recently spoke with Katy Jones, chief marketing officer at FoodLogiQ about consumer preferences and their expectations during a product recall, along with how food companies can manage better visibility further in their supply chain.
A recent survey found that many consumers expect a recall to be resolved within one to two days. Today one company released a product touted as the first real-time software as a service (SaaS) platform for managing recall and stock withdrawal with the goal of helping food companies respond to recalls faster.
Recall + Response, launched by FoodLogiQ, allows food companies to implement a targeted recall strategy across the supply chain and track the progress of the recall. An automated communications function (via phone, email and text) sends notifications that can accelerate the delivery of information throughout the supply chain during a recall. The platform can initiate stock withdrawals and recalls, as well as mock recalls. Its features include withdrawal templates that the user can define and create to prepare for recalls and stock withdrawals, and a mock recall feature to test the recall readiness of a user’s supply chain. It also has an automatic escalation function if no action is taken by a location or no contact is made in a specific timeframe.
Consumer preferences have clearly shifted to a more personal, hands-on experience that requires food companies to maintain trust by being completely forthright about what is in their products. And when a company is involved in a recall, consumers expect a fast response—within days, according to a recent survey. Half of the survey participants expect a company to address a recall within one to two days. In addition, if a brand or restaurant has a recall or contamination that leads to illness, 23% said they would never use the brand or visit the restaurant again and 35% said they would avoid it for a few months and “maybe” come back.
A company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in its food safety program. Learn how to mitigate these risks at the Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5-6, 2017
The survey, commissioned by FoodLogiQ and titled, “What Consumers Care About in the Age of Transparency”, polled more than 2000 people. It also found that the same consumers who expect a one- to two-day turnaround in addressing a recall also care a great deal about clarity in food labeling: 57% want to see as much information on a label as possible. This includes country of origin, allergen information and identification of genetically modified ingredients.
With the number of recalls occurring four times as often as they did five years ago, food companies are at an even higher risk of facing a negative financial impact and losing consumer confidence. Maintaining transparency throughout the supply chain is a crucial part of managing consumer expectations and executing effective risk mitigation.
“Open, constant and transparent communication with your suppliers is a must for addressing these issues. After all, you can’t offer consumers the information they crave about your product and processes if you aren’t getting that information from your suppliers and brokers,” state the survey authors. “You cannot expect a supplier to fulfill your requirements around safety and brand promise if you aren’t open about your expectations. It’s a two-way relationship that can make a huge difference in your business.”
The authors offer recommendations on how companies can keep a clear line of communication open with consumers, including:
- Transparency throughout the supply chain, including from where food is sourced
- List all product ingredients and include information about allergens and animal products
- Have open communication concerning mislabeling, and contamination and recalls
Food recalls are not 100% avoidable, and they are costly. The hit to an individual food company or retailer, on average, can run to tens of millions of dollars. Annually, millions of consumers become ill as a result of contaminated food products, and the dollar costs in terms of lost productivity, medical treatment and deaths run into the tens of billions.1 More than 20% of consumers have said that they would not purchase any brands from a company suffering a food recall.2 At best, damage to a company’s brand and reputation could take a long time to repair. Clearly, the need to prevent food contamination is obvious and should be the ultimate goal of all food safety professionals.
But despite the best industry efforts, recalls inevitably occur. And since they aren’t 100% avoidable, suppliers and retailers must continue to look for ways to minimize the safety and financial impact of the recall events that do occur. It’s good to begin that process by understanding some statistics surrounding the most common recalls. Globally, 46% of food recalls are for chemical hazards or the introduction of non-food-grade ingredients. 79% of these are due to undeclared allergens. 26% of recalls are for food-borne pathogens, and 8% are due to physical hazards (metal, glass, plastic, paper, wood, etc.). The remaining 20% are generally quality-based recalls and withdrawals.3
Head Off Recalls Before They Occur
Knowing the numbers helps suppliers and retailers home in on their most likely problem areas and get a leg up on potential product contamination problems. Since chemical hazards are the single biggest culprit, and because most of these instances are due to allergens, food companies should closely examine their cleaning and sanitation practices during production line changeovers. Keep in mind the potential role of contract service providers as sources of adulteration. Regarding pathogens, evaluate raw and ready-to-eat segregation procedures, staff access points, and good manufacturing practices and employee traffic patterns.
Many companies focus their efforts on passing food safety certification audits, but faithful adherence to food safety measures just to pass an audit misses the point. Focus on the development and implementation of comprehensive food safety systems to guard against contamination and food safety incidents, and not just avoid non-conformances to certification codes. Preventing food safety incidents and recalls before they happen must be the priority.
Supplier Best Practice: The Mock Trace
Manufacturers, suppliers and certification bodies have evolved a set of best-practice recommendations that will go a long way toward reducing the number of food safety incidents and recalls. These include conducting regular internal audits of food safety plans and procedures, including approved supplier programs and environmental monitoring programs, both to re-evaluate their effectiveness and discover new or previously overlooked gaps.
Suppliers should consider taking things to the next level. SQFI’s LeAnn Chuboff suggests that suppliers “make their retailers happy” through the use of mock trace exercises.3 These “dry runs” are invaluable for reinforcing the close examination and evaluation of recall plans and to become intimately familiar with the necessary procedures in the event of an actual adulteration event. Mock trace exercises should be intensive: They are particularly effective in identifying gaps when they occur during off shifts. Making the exercise challenging rather than check-the-box easy helps companies reveal and close critical gaps. Conduct the mock trace in both directions, from raw materials to finished goods, and vice versa.
Include every department in the company. For mock trace exercises to be completely effective, review all documentation for errors or omissions. All employees should be interviewed to determine whether they fully understand food safety and documentation procedures. Review training modules and observe manufacturing procedures for evidence of knowledge or operational gaps. Examine bulk material receiving and storage, employee and material traffic patterns, packaging materials and procedures, and cleaning and maintenance chemicals.
Speed as well as accuracy and thoroughness are critical in the event of an actual recall event. Companies should practice rapid response. Take advantage of all the accumulated experiences from the mock exercise to improve every aspect of the company’s food contamination response tools and practices.
The recalls involving powdered milk continue to pile up.
Since December, more than a dozen products containing powdered milk have been recalled due to the risk of Salmonella, including mini eclairs and cream puffs, mac & cheese products, chocolate-covered pretzels, potato chips, seasonings and white peppermint Hostess Twinkies.
Back in November, FDA seized more than 4 million pounds of dry nonfat milk powder and buttermilk powder produced by Valley Milk Products, LLC. The agency used whole genome sequencing to make the connection between the samples that were collected in the facility—Salmonella strains were found from samples taken in 2016 and back to 2010. FDA identified it as a persistent strain of the pathogen.
“FDA investigators observed residues on internal parts of the processing equipment after it had been cleaned by the company and water dripping from the ceiling onto food manufacturing equipment. In addition, environmental swabs collected during the inspection confirmed the presence of Salmonella meleagridis on surfaces food came into contact with after being pasteurized.” – FDA news release
To date, no illnesses have been reported.
From countless recalls, to FSMA deadlines, to the rising demand for transparency, 2016 has been a monumental year in the food industry. With 2017 knocking, here are the top trends and predictions to watch out for in the food industry next year.
1. Moving Toward a Fully Digital, Connected Supply Chain
The food supply chain in many ways is still lagging behind in technology compared to other supply chains. In 2017, many companies will begin or continue on their journey to fully digitize their supply chain, whether that is simply getting their list of approved suppliers out of an Excel spreadsheet and into a supplier management software technology solution or fully capturing every step of their products along the journey from farm to fork.
The spectrum of digitization across the supply chain is quite broad. But bottom line, supply chain analytics will empower food companies to create useful KPIs, allow them to truly measure the ROI of their supply chain initiatives and give consumers the transparency that they demand. And systems that fully support the daily monitoring, sharing and interpretation of those analytics needed to help companies will experience tremendous growth in 2017.
Collaboration with your supply chain partners is an absolutely critical element, and we can expect to see more companies fully integrate throughout their network of suppliers and customers. Food companies that will succeed in 2017 will need a fully integrated supply chain network, with access to the same information, working towards a shared mission to deliver results and be ahead of their competitors. A connected supplier network will allow food companies to be agile when faced with an issue, responsive to recalls, as well as be flexible and efficient.
2. Recalls, Recalls, Recalls
We saw a high volume of recalls this year, and this trend is not going away anytime soon. As more and more advances in food testing are made, companies will have access to new technologies across their supply chain that will identify issues early. Consequently, more products will need to be pulled out of the supply chain because of that increased testing in order to maintain consumer sentiment.
The companies that are able to roll out these capabilities quickly and efficiently—armed with the data needed—will be well poised to manage their supply chain, potential recalls and the impact to their customers. With the knowledge that we can expect to see several recalls in the new year, food companies should be looking to mitigate risks and better manage their supply chain.
3. Full-force FSMA Is Here Whether You Like It or Not
FSMA focuses on amplifying preventive controls for food production in order to alleviate potential food contamination outbreaks, and the past two or more years have been focused on this preparation. This preparation will come to a pinnacle in 2017, the first full year of FSMA implementation worldwide, with the FDA starting audits for larger companies. This could lead to the FDA requesting required records, conducting audits and in the worst situation for food companies, shutting down operations if they feel it’s necessary.
FSMA will require detailed record keeping when a recall or outbreak occurs, with clearly defined corrective actions in place. Companies will see an increased need for technologies that help supply preventive processes such as food allergen and sanitation controls, as well a prepared recall and supply chain plan. Tracking and traceability will be the two key parameters that will offer manufacturers the ability to examine specific foods and trends to improve their overall process. In order to comply with these new FSMA regulations at every step of the process, food companies will increasingly look to utilize these technologies to account for full traceability of the supply chain.
4. Growth in Foodservice At the Consumer’s Doorstep
Brands like Starbucks and Panera have been testing the food home delivery waters, but more companies seem to be jumping onto the trend of bringing gourmet food directly to the consumer’s doorstep—Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh just to name a few.
The increasing complexity of the global food chain has also increased the complexity of traceability of ingredients. However, FSMA has made this task a critical part of the seed to fork process. More vigilance and awareness of the supply chain is an essential part of protecting consumers and the company brand, and plays in an important role in the event of a recall. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech Dean Wiltse, CEO of FoodLogiQ, explains the issues the food industry is experience in this area and why transparency in the supply chain will become the new normal.
Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest supply chain challenges you see industry facing today?
Dean Wiltse: The biggest challenge we see in the food supply chain is getting beyond the “one-up and one-back” approach to supply chain management to achieve real transparency in the supply chain. Now I think more than ever consumers want to know more information about their food and 2017 is going to be the year of transparency. A year of getting beyond one-up and one-back, and beyond the four walls of the food manufacturing facility to really dig down and understand what is going on two, three, four, or five levels down the supply chain, from a safety and risk mitigation standpoint.
I also think food companies will continue to be challenged by the ripple effect of increased recalls: Sunflower seeds, flour, powdered milk. Many food companies were rocked with these recalls in 2016. We expect these recalls to continue in scale and frequency going into 2017.
Another challenge is in the area of quality incidents—and the monitoring of those quality incidents. Oftentimes these quality issues go unchecked and it’s damaging to the quality of your food—and of course your brand—as well as damaging to the bottom line.
FST: How should companies monitor and ensure that they are getting high quality product from suppliers?
Wiltse: It sounds simple, but it all starts with being aware of exactly where you are experiencing quality issues across your supply chain. At FoodLogiQ, we pull all of the quality and incident data together in our dashboard to enable food companies to know exactly which suppliers you are having quality issues with and which ones you aren’t.
|FoodLogiQ dashboards enable users to monitor quality issues in the supply chain and document incidents. (Click above images to enlarge the dashboards)|
Tracking and documenting these incidents—followed by the corrective actions—is critical. It is also important that all of the requirements and expectations are communicated openly; it makes the food supply chain safer by opening up transparency.
Customers can also use our technology to aggregate the quality and safety data into a star rating for their suppliers. Defining what is important to you from a quality and safety standpoint and aggregate that data in the software, and then assign a star rating for your suppliers. You can then use this star rating to formulate your preferred and approved supplier list.
FST: Where are the biggest disconnects in the supply chain? And how can companies rectify this?
Wiltse: Back to what the consumer is demanding: More information about their food, where it came from and what exactly is in it. Leading food brands want to provide this level of transparency to their consumers, but many are struggling with delivering this information in an authentic, real-time fashion.
Today there’s technology that can deliver it to them. In order to get more granular and provide more detailed information through the supply chain, there’s a cost associated with that, even down to the labeling at the grower for traceability. Many in the industry view this as an additional cost, but the leaders see this as a strategic investment and realize there is significant ROI in supply chain transparency.
FST: What are the most serious concerns surrounding FSMA and the supply chain?
Wiltse: Clearly the majority of the industry has been preparing for FSMA for several years now, getting their processes in place, if they weren’t already. Where we see a significant opportunity for companies to be proactive is in centralizing their required records, safety plans, and other essential processes into one platform for their entire supply chain.
We see many food companies who may have the required documentation and corrective actions in place, but they are scattered or siloed throughout the organization, and not centralized and easily accessible when the FDA calls on you to provide that information.
Another challenge is certainly top of mind is foreign supplier verification. The wave of required verification for foreign suppliers will be significant for many companies so they must be vigilant and start that process now or risk a significant disruption to their business.
Recalls are an inevitable reality of working in the food industry. Indeed, hardly a day goes by without one food company or another announcing a recall. According to the USDA, 150 food products were recalled in 2015. From large national brands like Tyson Foods and McCormick to smaller local manufacturers, no food company is immune from recalls.
Recovering from the sometimes devastatingly expensive recall process can be difficult, so it’s obviously best to avoid problems whenever possible. Understanding the top three reasons for food recalls is the first step toward greatly reducing how frequently they affect your food company.
1. Cross Contamination
Many food manufacturers process multiple products in a single factory. This can lead to cross-contamination issues involving foods to which people are commonly allergic, namely milk, wheat, soy and peanuts. Because cross contamination is sometimes unavoidable, manufacturers are permitted to sell cross-contaminated food, provided the potential contaminants are declared as allergens on the label. According to the USDA’s report, undeclared allergens accounted for 58 of the 150 food recalls in 2015, and milk has been identified as the number one offender.
How to Prevent Cross Contamination. Food is often contaminated because machinery isn’t properly cleaned between uses. Therefore, the most effective way to prevent it is to thoroughly clean equipment after processing food that contains common allergens. Visually inspecting the equipment following cleaning is important, but unseen residue can linger.
To overcome this, in-plant allergen testing of equipment, post cleaning, is recommended. Some tests utilize quick, non-allergen-specific colorimetric tests to identify sugars, proteins and other indicators that an allergen is present. More expensive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits are more sophisticated and may be a better choice if cross contamination plagues your food manufacturing plant.
- Other tips to prevent a recall caused by allergen contamination include:
- Establishing spill-cleanup protocols
- Training personnel on allergen management
- Designing equipment with sanitary principles in mind, including self-draining equipment, smooth edges and rounded corners
- Carefully inspecting product labels for accuracy
Recalls from pathogen-contaminated products are highly damaging because they affect all consumers, not just those with specific allergies. Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella are the most common—resulting in a combined 17 food recalls in 2015, according to the USDA’s report. Several foods have been identified as being most at risk for carrying these pathogens:
- Deli meats, soft cheeses and other foods that usually aren’t cooked
- Poultry, eggs, undercooked beef, and unpasteurized milk or juice
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Raw or undercooked shellfish
- Home-canned foods with low-acid content — including asparagus, corn, green beans and beets
How to Prevent Pathogens. As with avoiding cross contamination, the best way to prevent a pathogen outbreak is to implement hygienic manufacturing practices. Four specific techniques apply here:
- Separate raw products from cooked/ready-to-eat products. Your efforts should even go as far as separating employees who work in each area. They should use divided washing facilities, locker rooms and cafeterias.
- Control the temperature and moisture level to reduce bacteria and mold growth. Anywhere condensation forms or moisture is left to pool, micro-organisms can potentially grow and create a contamination issue. Ventilation and air conditioning can help tremendously with this, as can air dryers used to sap moisture from steamy air.
- Implement pest-control techniques. Rats, flies and cockroaches are significant carriers of Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio cholera and other bacteria. Effective pest-control techniques include disposing of garbage properly, sealing pest entry points, and using air curtains and screens to keep flies out.
- Choose durable, easily cleanable equipment for your manufacturing plant and wash all surfaces regularly. Mold and bacteria can start growing within a matter of hours, so keeping surfaces clean is essential. Proper hygiene among plant personnel is critical as well.
3. Physical Contamination
When non-food items are found in food products, a recall is inevitable. Metal, plastic, wood and even insect body parts are examples of physical contaminants. Food is also considered physically contaminated if it’s chemically or biologically tainted. According to a Food Standards Agency report, of the 107 physical contamination incidents in 2012, the most common malefactors were metal (37), pests (23) and plastic/glass (10 each).
How to Prevent Physical Contamination. Foreign objects often enter food products when malfunctioning equipment or human error breaks down the production process. Safeguards such as X-ray scanning, metal detection and filtration/sieving processes help catch foreign objects before they’re shipped, but these aren’t foolproof methods. You should also only work with trustworthy suppliers and take the time to examine raw materials before using them.
The general public expects food manufacturers to produce safe, untainted food. By following these tips, you help uphold your brand and avoid the expensive, reputation-damaging effects of food recalls.
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
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.
- 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