Product Recalls: From undeclared allergens to food safety concerns

by Donna Berry
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Green chili burrito
Any type of product recall damages a brand’s reputation, but a prompt an effective response can make the recall survivable. (photo: USDA)
 
The past month has been a busy one in terms of prepared meat and poultry product recalls. Food recalls typically occur for one of two food safety reasons: the inclusion of undeclared allergens or the presence of pathogenic microorganisms. Recalls may also occur for the presence of foreign substances as well as inferior quality, including underweight packs and off-spec formulations. Any type of product recall damages a brand’s reputation; however, a company’s prompt response and follow-up actions and communication can make the recall survivable.

Manufacturers must treat every recall as a crisis that needs to be effectively managed to satisfy regulators and the court of public opinion. Advanced planning is paramount. Action steps and a communication strategy for various scenarios should be part of this plan. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to food safety and product recalls. A prompt response shows competence.

The US provides one of the safest food supplies in the world; however, lethal microorganisms, a.k.a. pathogens, such as Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum, Staphylococcus aureus and others manage to make their way into the supply chain. Further, with a growing number of manufacturers following simple and free-from formulations, the chance of undeclared ingredients, namely allergens, getting incorporated because of cross contamination or by an error from unskilled workers, has increased. To keep product safe, quality control and food safety testing of every batch of incoming ingredients must be conducted. Similar testing of finished product must be frequent. Good record keeping, including fully traceable product, from farm to fork, is necessary. Being able to narrow down the product needing to be recalled can reduce financial burden.

On June 6, numerous meat and poultry manufacturers were notified by one of their ingredient suppliers that the bread crumbs and cracker meal they were using potentially contained milk and not declared on the ingredient statement. This was a single mistake by one ingredient supplier, which has impacted more than a dozen food manufacturers with the recall of more than 3.5 million lbs. of meat. This includes ready-to-eat breaded chicken, some of which went to schools, as well as prepared chicken salad, cooked meat balls, raw pork sausage and various beef products, including beef-filled ravioli. This is still an ongoing recall, with the potential for more manufacturers to learn they are part of it. The sooner a company learns and responds, the better the chance to limit damage. The good news is there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

About a month earlier, Las Cruces, New Mexico-based Green Chile Food Company recalled about 252,854 lbs. of ready-to-eat meat and poultry frozen burrito products due to Listeria. The problem was discovered by the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service during a routine testing for Listeria. Again, there have been no confirmed reports of illness due to consumption of these products.

The company’s record keeping enabled it to narrow down the recall to four states within a two-month code date range. Unfortunately, that is still a lot of meat that equates to a huge financial loss.

Most recently, on June 13, OFD Foods, LLC., an Albany, Oregon, establishment, recalled approximately 197 lbs. of beef product that may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically rubber. The beef hash item was produced on Dec. 22, 2016.

Unfortunately, the problem was discovered when a firm employee reported finding pieces of rubber in the product on June 12. That is almost six months after production. By this time, the item had been shipped to retail locations nationwide and sold directly to consumers through internet sales. Timing is everything when it comes to recalls.
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