Please see my new article in FoodProcessing.com regarding the lessons Renfro Foods learned from conducting a recall.
The March 2011 Deloitte Consumer Food Safety Survey confirms that customers are aware of food safety issues, and they are willing to pay more for safer food products. Food processors, distributors, and retailers may all benefit from this trend by developing and implementing food safety risk management plans.
Customers are Aware of Food Safety Issues
According to the Deloitte survey, 73 percent of consumers are “more concerned than they were five years ago about the food [they] eat,” an increase of eight percentage points over 2010 figures. The top five food safety concerns include ingredient safety, toxins and chemicals in packaging materials, and contracting a food-borne illness. About 91 percent of consumers think the number of food recalls has stayed the same or increased since the prior year.
Consumers Concerned about Safety of Fresh and Imported Foods
Consumers generally reported the greatest safety concerns about fresh foods, such as meat, fish and seafood, and fruits and vegetables. Fresh food producers, distributors, and retailers may benefit from developing, implementing, and regularly updating their cold chain risk management and HACCP plans to maintain and improve food safety to minimize the risk of food-borne illness and food recalls (as well as the risks of litigation and lost brand value).
Consumers Hold Manufacturers and Retailers Accountable for Food Recalls
More than three-fourths of those surveyed told Deloitte that they hold manufacturers responsible for communicating food recall information. A majority expect that retailers will also notify them about food recalls. Critically, almost 20 percent of consumers reported they would buy “somewhat more expensive” products that included traceability information, compared to lower-priced products without it. These data highlight the need for food growers and manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to adopt and implement food recall risk management plans before a problem arises to meet your customers’ rising food safety demands. (You will be able to read more about food recall risk management plans in my upcoming July 2011 publication).
On March 26, the makers of Toxic Waste candy recalled their “Toxic Waste® Short Circuits™ Bubble Gum” for excessive lead content. This is the second Toxic Waste candy product recalled in 2011 for excessive lead levels.
The gum was distributed between January 4, 2011 and March 18, 2011. This raises the question of the extent to which the recalled product may already have been consumed. Time is of the essence for food recalls, and managing a food recall is easier for both the manfacturer and consumer when a product is recalled sooner than later.
As with the January 2011 recall of the company”s “nuclear sludge” candy, the recalled candy at issue here was imported. Although non-chocolate candy accounted for only 7.3 percent of FDA food import violations from 1998 to 2004, it is difficult to find specific data regarding the scope of these violations. However, the FDA provides information about how it monitors and regulates food importation. Additionally, while candy manufacturers are not at this time required to develop and implement HACCP plans, companies may want to consider doing so sooner than later to manage their risk of food recalls.
KGO recently reported on using RFID to maintain cold chain integrity and trace produce from the farm to the retailer. RFID will likely continue to grow in popularity for food safety risk management.
The latest reminder that restaurants and grocers can benefit from implementing food recall risk management plans: two customers of Safeway grocery stores filed a class-action lawsuit contending that store should have used Safeway Club Card contact information to notify consumers sooner about recalled food they purchased.
The lawsuit does not contend that the plaintiffs suffered any illness. However, plaintiffs apparently request that Safeway implement a system to notify Club Card customers of food recalls sooner. It also apparently requests that Safeway refund its customers the cost of the recalled food purchased. (Note: plaintiffs did not need to sue Safeway to get their money back. The company’s website notes that customers may return recalled products to their local store for a full refund.)
Just two days ago, I noted that some stores were still selling contaminated food after a recall, and that they could lower their liability risks by signing up for free recall notifications. (Here, apparently the plaintiffs purchased their food before it was recalled; at this time I am not aware of any allegation that Safeway sold recalled food.) However, Costco took the next step, and at least two years ago, it started telephoning its members about food recalls for previously-purchased items.
Although no known authority (under California or federal law) requires a store to use loyalty card contact information to notify customers of recalls by phone or email, as the capability to warn customers about recalled food expands, so will customers’ expectations. Why wait until your company is a defendant facing trial in a court of law (or the court of public opinion) to try and minimize the risk of litigation?
Thankfully, the lawsuit against Safeway does not claim that anyone suffered injury, but one in six Americans suffers food poisoning every year, and about 3,000 die from it. The more your company can show it implemented best practices to minimize the risk of personal injury, the less likely a jury (or the public) will find it did something wrong.
Pet food manufacturers need to plan proactively to prevent food recalls, too. Even if people are not on the dog food diet, they may be exposed to salmonella by handling contaminated pet food products. The moral of the story for (pet) food processing companies: although people should wash their hands more often, it’s often less expensive to produce a pathogen-free product than to incur expenses for a costly recall after discovering contamination.
Why are some stores still selling a contaminated food a week after it’s been recalled? Perhaps they have not signed up for FDA email notifications re: product recalls. This fast and free service will help your food processing company, restaurant, or retail store stay up-to-date about foods they use, serve, or sell and lower the risk of, e.g., selling salsa containing cilantro that may be contaminated with salmonella.