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Listeria Hysteria: Contamination Risks Driving Food Recalls

From caramel apples, hummus, spinach, ice cream and most recently, pork and beef products, listeria* contamination has taken a toll on the food industry this year. Food borne illnesses, such as listeria outbreaks, can pose serious health risks for consumers and can frequently lead to a recall crisis for food manufacturers. As a result, it’s critical that food manufacturers have plans in place to mitigate these issues if and when they occur.

According to the CDC, food borne illness affects an estimated 48 million people, or about 1 in 6 Americans, every year. In 2014, there were four multi-state outbreaks, the highest number in any year in the 16-year CDC database. According to the Q1 2015 Stericycle Recall Index, several large supplier-related listeria recalls multiplied into dozens of other products impacting consumers and manufacturers nationwide. There has been a growing concern from the public and media over listeria due to several high profile recall cases in the past year. In particular, one supplier issued an apple recall that affected 15.25 million pounds of food and spread to 19 states and Canada. In the same quarter, a frozen spinach recall also multiplied throughout the supply chain. After the supplier issued the recall, eight additional brands recalled 30 products that were sold in retailers across the country!

The heightened media attention around the latest listeria outbreaks has not only raised concerns with consumers but has also put additional pressure on regulators. As a result, manufacturers have taken action and many proactively responded to the recent issues – some even went as far as shutting down their facilities to help isolate the cause of the contamination. Other manufacturers hired trained microbiologists and experts to identify contamination causes as well as worked to improve testing procedures to proactively trace outbreaks. Companies also responded internally by improving training for their employees on sanitation best practices, enhancing sterilization on equipment and implementing regular testing procedures.

With such serious health risks involved in foodborne illnesses, manufacturers cannot tread lightly when it comes to recall-related risks. Companies with proactive recall strategies can navigate their supply chains with ease if contamination issues arise and respond quickly and effectively to ensure consumer safety. For more information on recall preparation, click here.

*What is Listeria? Listeria is a bacterium found in soil, water, decaying vegetation and some animals that can cause severe reactions and sickness in affected people. Particularly young children, the elderly, pregnant woman and immune compromised individuals are especially susceptible. If you eat food contaminated with listeria, you may suffer from short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, and nausea, but the bacteria can also cause more serious symptoms that may lead to hospitalization and even death.

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