Food recalls are costly in so many ways. When Odwalla’s apple juice was discovered to have been contaminated by E. coli, the company’s stock market value plummeted, and the business lost over $10 million.
That’s not all. The company also had to pay a fine of nearly $2 million and spend millions more to deal with the lawsuits.
Recalls may also result in hospitalization and death, especially since these announcements do not come promptly. In Odwalla’s case, at least a baby died, while several more landed in the ER. The pathogen-tainted Jack in the Box burgers also killed at least four children.
This health problem can be worse for low-income families and individuals. According to the World Health Organization, food poisoning resulting from harmful microorganisms or unknown agents contaminating the product can lead to over $100 billion losses a year in medical expenses and productivity in low-income nations.
Further, a vast majority of these recalled products end up in landfills, where they add to the growing tons of food waste the United States produces yearly.
The impact of food recalls is vast and goes beyond the company’s financial statements and bank accounts. Fortunately, it can also be preventable, if not significantly minimized.
1. Invest in Better Technology
Food manufacturing and processing industries have come a long way ever since people needed to store their products in ice boxes to keep them in lower temperatures. Today, many companies have access to more efficient, safer technologies.
One of these technologies is the oil-less air compressor. Compressors play a vital role in the industry. They help push raw materials or finished products down the assembly line. They create vacuum to seal food packaging properly. Compressors are also necessary when filling fluid components into a product.
Compressors, though, can be subject to wear and tear. Oil ensures that these tools can function efficiently all the time. If there are leaks or the equipment is poorly maintained, the fluid can end up in the finished product. It then contaminates the food, making it subject to a food recall.
As their name suggests, oil-free or oil-less air compressors do not need to inject oil but instead use air to help keep the equipment moving, lubricated, and cooled.
2. Conduct Vulnerability Assessments Regularly
Global Food Safety Resource strongly recommends conducting regular assessments or audits in the food manufacturing or processing plant. One of these evaluations is called vulnerability assessment.
Vulnerability assessment, as opposed to risk evaluation, is a method of determining whether there’s a malicious or intentional fraudulent activity during the manufacturing process. This means someone or a group of people may have committed tampering or mislabeling. Fraud may also refer to the addition, substitution, or removal of an ingredient into the food product.
The value of vulnerability assessment is based on the fact that not all food contamination happens because of a problematic assembly line.
In 2016, a small shop in Pakistan selling a baked sweet called laddu found itself in a middle of a scandal when over 30 people died and many more became ill after eating the food. It turns out that the sibling of the shop owner purposely included a pesticide into the mixture after a family argument.
Four years later, a woman in the United States complained about seeing four razor blades on the pizza dough she had bought from a store. Security cameras revealed that the culprit was the pizza supply company’s former employee.
Conducting a food fraud assessment may be challenging especially for growing businesses, and they may require the help of advisors. But just to give one an idea, it involves plotting the level of vulnerability of various factors and the consequences should fraud occur. For example, how are the different ingredients at risk of food fraud? Are they easy to tamper with?
3. Follow Industry Standards and Communicate Them with the Team
Industry standards can vary depending on the products manufactured or processed. For example, some may need to be stored in certain temperatures to maintain their freshness or reduce the risk of contamination. Guidelines may also be specific if the same assembly line is used to create different products with different ingredients.
Knowing the standards, though, is just half of the solution in preventing a product recall. The other is communicating these guidelines to the team. Do they understand the rules and the importance of not skipping any critical process or quality control? How do they receive the information? It may be necessary to repeat essential points over and over through various modes like e-mails and bulletins.
Food recalls are damaging not only to sales but also to brand reputation. The latter, in fact, may be more difficult to fix. Although no strategy guarantees that recalls won’t happen, food manufacturing and processing businesses can take steps to reduce the risks.