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FDA Looks to Name Retailers in Some Future Food Recalls

With about nine new product recalls announced every day in the U.S., ensuring consumers are able to keep up with them, identify the products in their own homes, and take action to protect themselves and their families is one of the greatest challenges stakeholders face. Now, in an effort to “help consumers more quickly and accurately recognize recalled product,” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft guidance that would outline certain circumstances when retail locations that potentially sold recalled food and beverage products should be named. 

In its statement, the agency said it has not traditionally taken this step because the information released by recalling companies is typically sufficient and because “certain supply chain information is confidential between the supplier and retailer.” However, it now says releasing such information can help consumers more quickly take action, especially in cases where the product has already been linked to foodborne illness.

The draft guidance says the agency intends to publicize retail lists when two criteria are met:

  • When the food is not easily identified as a recalled product due to its packaging. Examples include nuts, deli cheese, and pet treats that are purchased in bulk and lack a UPC or bar code.
  • When the shelf-life of the affected product means it is likely still available for consumption.

The FDA also intends to take into account recalls that have been or are likely to be classified as Class I – those that carry the most serious hazard. 

So what would this mean for food companies and retailers alike? From the recalling firm’s perspective, it is even more important to work closely with retailers to ensure they have enough information to answer questions. Even under current standards that don’t call for revealing retailer information, consumers often turn to their local grocery store for answers. If the FDA begins naming them in certain circumstances, those questions will likely increase.  Instructions for identifying affected products, receiving the recall remedy, and contacting the recalling firm with additional questions should be clear and concise.

Retailers typically already have protocols for removing affected product from their store shelves when a food recall is issued, but they may feel even more pressure to act quickly when the FDA names them specifically. That can make the chances of “shelf-sweeping” – when entire product lines and brands are removed from shelves – even more likely, which means a field force that can remove only affected products may be that much more critical.

Traceability and retailer data may also be a greater challenge, given how complex product distribution can be – especially across long distances. In its statement, the FDA acknowledges that supply chain complexities pose challenges when it comes to naming retailers, but says “knowing where a recalled product was sold during the most dangerous food recalls can be the difference between a consumer going to the hospital or not.”

Stakeholders have 60 days from the publication of the draft guidance to submit comments. And they can expect more where that came from. The agency’s announcement says it is the second in a series of steps it is taking to improve the recall process and help protect the public.

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