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5 Things You May Not Know About Food Recalls

There are dozens of food recalls issued every quarter in the U.S. alone. But despite the frequency of food recalls, there are a number of aspects many people – even industry leaders – may not realize.

  1. When consumers become ill, they typically think of the last food they consumed. But actually, it can take a couple of days for illness to begin. It can take even longer for medical personnel to determine the cause and report it to the proper authorities – sometimes weeks.

    This can create a tricky situation for food companies, especially in the age of social media. Companies must have a plan for investigating every complaint, no matter where it is shared. That includes each and every tweet, post, and comment they find. Companies should also keep in mind that consumers expect responsiveness. In fact, according to Sprout Social, 35% of users will boycott a brand if their social media message goes unanswered.

  2. Changing a food product in an effort to make it healthier could backfire – if manufacturers aren’t careful. That’s because removing certain ingredients such as gums, starches, preservatives, salts, and sugars can make it easier for pathogens to survive and grow. Of course, that can lead to more product recalls.

    That doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad idea to make these changes, as many consumers are looking for more healthful options. But it does mean that food companies should always ensure their recall plans are up-to-date and have been recently tested before embarking on the project.

  3. High profile recalls can have long-term effects. If contamination originated in a field, the land may remain barren for many years until testing determines it is once again safe to plant. Similarly, when the contamination occurs during the manufacturing or packaging process, the plant may be shut down for an extended period.

    Recalls can also have a serious impact on consumer buying behavior. In some cases, sales of entire product categories have been reduced by around 20 percent months after the recall has concluded.

  4. Just as home cooks can cross contaminate foods in their kitchens, plant workers can bring pathogens from raw areas to other parts of the plant. It is important for food companies to pinpoint potential areas of vulnerability, reduce the likelihood that contamination will occur, and identify ways to isolate the problem if it does.
  5. Direct recall notifications are possible, but there’s a catch. Unlike consumer products that often include registration forms, food producers and manufacturers don’t generally have the direct contact information of consumers. However, the retailer that sold the food might.

    In those cases, huge numbers of consumers may be notified at once – sometimes by the tens or even hundreds of thousands. When steps aren’t taken to minimize the impact, internal call centers can easily be overwhelmed.

From the plow to the plate, there is so much to know about how recalls happen in the first place and how to execute them when they do. Companies should partner with trusted advisors to understand the recall landscape, keeping both recall prevention and preparedness in mind.

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