Recalls are an inevitable part of the food industry. Every brand will experience a recall, whether voluntary or mandated, at some point or another. The secret sauce to surviving a quality or contamination issue, keeping consumers safe, and preserving brand reputation fundamentally boils down to transparency.
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With the health and wellbeing of consumers at stake if an undeclared allergen or impurity finds its way into a brand’s supply chain, the best possible course of action is to scrutinize and keep impeccable records of the chain, and each product moving through it.
It is well-known that the food supply chain is increasingly more complex, as food passes through several stages from farm or factory to someone’s plate. Fortunately, the focus of the broader food industry and the government, as well as innovations in technology, are making it easier than ever to comprehensively track the chain.
Going Beyond “OUOB”
The food industry is swiftly moving beyond the linear “one-up and one-back” (OUOB) approach to comprehensive supply chain transparency. Awareness of where a product directly came from and where it is going next is no longer an acceptable standard of transparency if a company wishes to best prepare for and manage recalls. Underscored by federal regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, the broader industry is shifting towards a preventative approach to safety matters, rather than a reactive method.
Considering the variety of technology advancements now available to enable full supply chain transparency, brands looking to bounce back from a recall and mitigate future issues have the solutions readily available. Through implementing whole-chain traceability software, brands are able to visualize the supply chain from top to bottom, and trace each product down to the specific farm, package date, and lot it originated from. Tracing that information through each step in the supply chain allows brands to know whether a specific batch of tainted spinach ended up on a sandwich, in a can of soup, or in a farmer’s market–—allowing the brand to proactively manage the tainted products without disrupting their entire chain or wasting undamaged produce.
The OUOB traceability approach is especially dangerous when handling high-risk, perishable foods, like produce or meat—which are often the culprit of recalls. According to a recent study in the Journal of Business Logistics titled, “Tracing Bad Products in Supply Chains” by Dr. 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.”
Data is of the Essence
The time it takes the recall team to identify the root cause of an issue, notify the appropriate audiences, and remove it from the supply chain could be the difference between sick consumers and serious brand implications.
When faced with a safety or quality issue, communicating information to relevant parties is necessary throughout the process. Particularly as FSMA takes effect, if a brand faces a safety issue and must recall product, it must first notify regulatory establishments and submit detailed documentation and data for an investigation to proceed before the recall can commence. This can be delayed if a brand does not have organized records of their supply chain data and must spend hours sorting through file cabinets, Excel sheets, or emails for appropriate documentation, or liaising with various suppliers for the information. The longer it takes a company to comply with federal regulations and submit the proper data around a recall, the more likely consumers, and the brand, are at risk.