There is nothing like scrolling through your email when, suddenly, you’re stopped in your tracks. There, in a message ominously marked “URGENT” are those dreaded words:
Immediately you reach for your phone. As a food safety professional, there’s no time to delay. You must assemble your team and stop the issue before it spreads. Every minute wasted is a minute a consumer could become sick from a product they purchased from your brand. It’s go time.
This situation can be hard for even the most prepared and best-educated food safety expert but, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. In fact, in 2016 alone there were more than 8,000 products recalled by the FDA.
Whether your organization found the issue or you were contacted by the FDA, you still need to take action. If you discovered the issue yourself, you will need to contact the necessary regulatory agencies directly—such as the FDA or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). At this point, it is up to these agencies to investigate the severity of the recall and work with you to resolve the concern.
If the FDA of FSIS contacts you about a recall, you are responsible for responding and taking action, or the government may take legal action against your organization. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of January 2011, the FDA has the authority to halt food production and shut down any facilities it deems pose a significant threat to public health. The FDA or FSIS will determine when to officially terminate the recall, but you can submit a request once you feel you’ve rectified the situation.
When faced with a recall, you have to be ready for action. Here are the five things you must do when one of your products gets recalled.
- Assemble your recall team.After the issue is discovered, assemble your recall team. This team should be composed of highly trained professionals you can trust to help you handle the next steps swiftly and adeptly. The key member of your recall team is the recall coordinator. This acting leader will have the authority to call upon all other recall team members and make decisions in your absence.
In addition, your team should be composed of the following:
- Quality assurance manager
- Media communications manager
- Customer communications manager
- Regulatory body communications manager
- Complaint investigator
- Legal counselor
- Locate all products that were affected by the recall and put all items on hold.
Determine where all products are within the supply chain and immediately stop distribution. Also be sure to notify those that have the affected product outside of your control. All of these steps can be handled using supply chain traceability software.
- Determine which locations were affected by the recall.
Once you’ve traced back the contamination, you now must determine which locations were affected by the recall. For example, if your restaurant was affected by a spinach recall, you need to determine which locations sourced their spinach from the contaminated supplier or distributor. Or, if you supply packaged goods to a large grocery store chain, you may discover that only one of your packaging facilities was contaminated and the rest are safe.
- Communication is key to successfully handling a recall.
This may involve creating a press release that alerts the media to the recall and helps prevent the spread of contamination or illness. Additionally, you’ll need to notify your customers directly and inform them of what to do with the recall products (such as return the item to their local retailer for a refund, dispose of it, etc.)
You will also need to communicate with suppliers, distributors and others along the supply chain as well as your own team to ensure everyone is in the loop and prepared to take action.
- Leverage your centralized record keeping.
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 slowed down if you don’t have a good handle on your 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. Now is the time (before you are faced with recall) to get your documentation in order.
There’s no doubt a food recall can be a food safety professional’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to become a catastrophe for your brand. After all, it’s your quick thinking and problem-solving finesse that earned you this job in the first place. So long as you’re prepared, you can handle a recall with grace.
To do this, consider implementing a recall management, supplier management and whole-chain traceability solutions such as FoodLogiQ Connect that can help you stay one step ahead of a recall, which makes all the difference when consumer wellness and brand reputation are on the line.
Recalls can be stressful, but we’ve got the experience to guide you through this concern. Learn more about how to get prepared in FoodLogiQ’s free resources, The Food Safety Professional’s Recall Checklist, and 3 Elements of Effective Recall Management or schedule a demo today.
Katy Jones Bio
Katy Jones is chief marketing officer at FoodLogiQ, a food safety, quality management and traceability SaaS solutions platform helping the food industry support safe and high quality food products across the supply chain. She is passionate about driving transparency in the food supply and empowering consumers with the truth behind the food they eat.