In September, after testing, Blue Bell Ice Cream issued a voluntary recall of 2,000 cartons of ice cream produced in its Sylacauga, Ala. plant because they were made with a chocolate chip cookie dough ingredient supplied by a third-party supplier, Aspen Hills, Inc., with the potential for Listeria monocytogenes contamination.
This is the second Listeria “scare” Blue Bell has faced in two years, leading to last summer’s recall of the brand.
Christopher M. McDonald, a partner with Walsworth, LLP, and an experienced litigator who focuses on food law related issues, notes the decision to initiate a recall depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following:
1) Whether there is a risk of harm to customers;
2) Whether the defect affects safety;
3) The cost of the recall; and
4) The involvement of regulatory agencies.
“Although the cost of a recall may be high—often higher than the cost of the production of the product at issue—the cost of not implementing a recall may be much higher as the longer a defective product remains on the market, the greater the risk of product liability lawsuits, civil and criminal actions by regulatory agencies, and damage to one’s good will, brand name, and reputation,” he says. “In a product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the elements of a product liability lawsuit. A recall, on its own, does not establish liability and causation.”
There are a number of things that food companies can do to protect themselves from similar circumstances. McDonald notes that some steps food industry experts cite to limit exposure include the following.
Equipment selection: Using equipment that follows hygienic design principles (including smooth surfaces and rounded corners so as to avoid areas where production material can collect) that are easy to clean.
Supplier traceability: Knowing the sources of the raw materials that are being used and being able to track back specific lots of raw materials to said sources.
Visual inspections: Employing high-quality cameras and software that allow for examination of not only the product itself for irregularities but also the labeling and the packaging of the product to ensure each of these is proper.
Labels: Confirming the correct label is used on the product and the correct label is compliant with applicable regulations.
Cleanliness/hygiene: Keeping the production area as clean as possible by using hygienically designed equipment and conducting appropriate equipment wash downs between production runs, enforcing proper hygiene rules among all employees through proper and routine training and enforcing the rules.
Contamination detection: Using appropriate metal detectors/x-ray equipment that use multi-simultaneous frequency technology to scan the product to ensure there are no contaminants in the product (metal, glass, stones, plastic, wood, etc.).
“Through the implementation of the aforementioned, a manufacturer is better able to control the manufacturing environment and process, reduce the possibility of manufacturing a product that is contaminated with an allergen, a pathogen, or a foreign contaminant and, if it is determined that a product is contaminated, remove it from the production line before it is released into the stream of commerce,” McDonald says.
Additionally, conducting hazard analysis at critical control points will help a company understand the complete production process, identify critical points where the risk of contamination is highest, and take appropriate steps to prevent contamination.