Foreign materials caused just over 10 percent of FDA food recalls in 2016, and only about two percent of recalled units. While the amount is small compared to other common causes, the impact may be disproportionately large.
From a consumer perspective, a food safety issue such as an undeclared allergen is a major concern – if you have the allergy in question. While some are affected greatly, others are unaffected. That’s not the case with foreign matter contamination.
Discovering any number of objects such as metal, plastic, and even animals in a food product is not only potentially dangerous – causing hazards such as choking and laceration – it is universally off-putting to consumers. That’s a concern for food companies that could face a serious loss in customer loyalty when such an issue makes headlines. Food manufacturers should approach the issue two ways: prevention and recall preparedness.
To reduce the likelihood of this issue, companies should ensure suppliers have the proper procedures in place – and that their suppliers have the right systems, and so on. This means asking suppliers where ingredients grown or manufactured and how they maintain secure and sanitary facilities.
But since the supply chain from field to fork can get tangled quickly, companies should have their own procedures for detecting potential contamination of all types, including foreign materials. There may be a number of steps required in order to identify the wide variety of objects found in food. For example, large-scale magnets may be able to detect metal fragments, which accounted for more than half of FDA food units recalled due to foreign material contamination in 2016. But this technology won’t assist with pinpointing plastic, which last year accounted for more recalls than any other foreign material. An evaluation of the most likely scenarios can help determine which procedures will provide the greatest protection for consumers and brands alike.
Even with systems in place at every point in the supply chain, there is potential for foreign matter to find its way into food products. That’s why it is crucial to have a detailed recall plan in place for effectively locating the recalled product, removing it from the marketplace, spreading the word to consumers, and managing the response. The plan should assign responsibilities to a designated recall management team. And just as preparedness requires an examination of the supply chain, companies should also ensure suppliers have robust recall plans on hand.
Food regulators expect rapid response when a contamination could cause serious health issues, and being prepared is the only way to ensure both internal teams and recall partners are ready to take action immediately when a crisis occurs.
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