Food recalls, an unintended consequence of the continued globalization of the food supply chain, continue to make headlines. According to Swiss Re’s “Food Safety in a Globalized World” report, the number of U.S. food recalls per year has almost doubled since 2002, a fact that is not hard to believe at a time when headlines related to Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli are quickly becoming the norm.
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This increase has lead to changes in the food industry, namely the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), to prevent food recalls. The changes have forced food companies to implement preventive controls, like a better labeling process. Labeling accuracy is one of the food industry’s allies in recall prevention.
Why an Increase in Recalls?
So what is driving this increase in food recalls?
While the globalization of the food supply chain continues to open new markets and opportunities for food suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers, it has also increased the complexity of food traceability, labeling, and recall planning and management.
This change is also combined with an increase in the prevalence of food allergies, which according to the CDC, have increased among children by approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
This means that for many consumers, food recalls related to the mislabeling of required allergens represents a serious health threat.
Shift Towards Prevention
FSMA is a major shift in focus from how food manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers respond to food contamination to how they prevent food contamination.
So how does the FDA’s fundamental change in food safety management from reactionary to preventive impact food suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers?
First, FSMA shifts more power over food safety controls from companies to the FDA because, for the first time, the FDA will have mandatory recall authority and the ability to keep suspect food from being shipped.
Second, FSMA calls for increased preventive controls from food manufacturers. It requires companies to either establish or enhance operations, plans, and procedures for preventing food safety issues, including product recalls. “Rather than just react to outbreaks, we are requiring food facilities to take measures to prevent them from the get-go,” says Jenny Scott, M.S., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety. “Food facilities will need to think upfront about what could be harmful to consumers, and then put controls in place to minimize or prevent those hazards.”
Third, it requires food suppliers, manufacturers and retailers to rely more on emerging products and technologies that help keep food safe. According to a study by Freedonia, “demand for food safety products in the U.S. is forecast to increase 7.3 percent annually to $4.5 billion in 2016. Smart labels and tags, and software and tracking systems will see the fastest gains by product.”
So why does labeling accuracy play a key role in this change and its required product recall plans?
According to Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS’ Q4 2015 Recall Index, 42 percent of USDA recalls were due to “misbranding.” Such labeling errors, whether due to a missing or incomplete label, mislabeled ingredients, or failure to properly declare a required allergen, can not only be detrimental to food safety, but it can also prove costly to companies.
According to Barbara Kowalcyk, PhD, CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, “initiating a recall costs a company an average of $10 million, the amount saved in reputation, consumer trust, and the avoidance of additional illnesses is priceless.”
Companies like TEKLYNX International offer barcode label software solutions that help increase labeling accuracy because the software itself reduces the room for human error throughout the labeling process.
In addition to recall prevention, labeling accuracy plays a key role once a product recall is initiated because it allows companies to quickly identify, locate, and remove affected products. Barcode labeling software solutions prove invaluable on the back end of a recall because the software enables a full view into labeling history.