January 8, 2018

The Speed of Food Product Recalls

By: Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and Vice President, Food Safety Programs

Change is occurring in our industry at a rapid pace, but one thing hasn’t: food retailers’ commitment to food safety and communicating relevant recall information to their customers wherever – and however – they shop.

The food retail industry works within the regulatory framework and acts quickly with its business partners, food manufacturers and processors, to remove recalled product from shelves and notify shoppers. This is the most fundamental service they provide to maintain the trust of their customers. In fact, shoppers’ top-four safety priorities for food retailers outlined in the U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2017 report are: food free from contaminants; rotation of perishables; safe handling and rapid response to recalls.

When it comes to notifying customers of product recalls, shoppers tell us they want to receive this information in a variety of ways including email (56%), in-store notifications (39%), text messages (26%), information at the checkout register (25%) and social media updates (18%). As technology and the way we communicate evolve, retailers are developing more effective and efficient ways to notify customers about product recalls that meets the shopper’s needs.

While every recall is a response to risk mitigation, the causes, responses and communications vary on a case by case basis. Undeclared allergens are actually the leading cause of U.S. food recalls. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that Reportable Food Registry reports of undeclared food allergens increased from 30 percent to 47 percent  during the five year period from 2009-2013. As a proactive measure to better understand root-cause labeling errors, FMI and its Foundation awarded the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Food Science and Technology Department a grant in September 2017 to identify issues and to recommend best-practice procedures for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers in order to reduce undeclared allergen recalls. FMI Foundation is proud to support research which aims to improve public health efforts nationwide by identifying ways for retailers to improve food safety practices.

Previously, the FMI food safety team has written about the anatomy of a recall, outlining the role food retailers’ play in the process, and we’ve discussed how food retailers work with the FDA during the recall process. FMI also has important food recall resources that help companies prepare and establish processes for food recalls including our Guidance for Retailers: Product Recall document.

The reality is that food product recalls happen, and are the last step in the chain of prevention. Preventing foodborne contamination is always the primary goal. Recalls are the final step in the process and speed and communication matter in making sure that we remove product as quickly as possible and communicate to all impacted parties.