Avoiding Food Recalls 101: How to Adopt a Preventive Approach
Where would your brand be without the loyalty and trust of its consumers? A company that suffers from diminished consumer confidence is a company at risk of failure -- or, at the very least, significant loss. Therefore, protecting your brand image is of the utmost importance, though this can be a major challenge in today’s food industry climate. As federal regulations evolve, consumers become more informed and the number of food safety incidents climbs, there’s one undeniable truth at the core of protecting your brand: You must adopt a preventive approach.
Consumers put faith in your company to source, produce and deliver foods that won’t endanger their health, and a single breach of that trust can turn buyers away forever. While there are certainly effective tactics for minimizing damage and safeguarding your brand after a food recall occurs, it’s critical to place the greatest of your efforts on prevention. You’re far better off implementing the necessary steps to thwart a recall before it happens than dealing with the consequences of one after the fact.
When it comes to maintaining the livelihood of your brand, there’s simply no substitute for a proactive approach. Heed the following fundamental lessons for adopting a preventive approach at your company and executing precautions to avoid a food recall.
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Lesson 1: Diagnose and Remedy Recall-Causing Factors
What are the potential risk factors that exist within your manufacturing and production facilities? Understanding these areas is the first step toward preventing them from jeopardizing your brand:
- Undeclared Allergens: Milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat -- these are just some of the undeclared allergens that continue to cause food recalls. It’s up to manufacturers to ensure that all of their products are properly labeled with a list of all ingredients and allergy warnings. If you fail to label these accurately or you allow products to become cross-contaminated by known allergens, you’re setting your brand up for a food recall (and subsequent loss of consumer trust).
- Detected Pathogens: There are over 200 known species of bacteria related to foodborne illnesses, and if a pathogen outbreak occurs under the watch of your company, you may be facing a recall with serious ramifications. Do you have a pathogen identification plan in place? This responsibility extends from implementing effective hazard controls and monitoring techniques to embracing high-quality testing, corrective action and verification activities.
- Residue Contamination: Chemicals, antibiotics and toxins from various types of food treatments and cleaning solutions can linger through the manufacturing process. As with other types of contamination prevention, rigorous sanitation and testing are key.
Lesson 2: Regularly Revise Your HARPC to Reflect Changes
There are a number of reasons why your Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC) must be updated, and making these changes should be an ongoing process. That’s the only way to make sure that your food safety efforts are addressing newly identified issues and realities.
If you were under the impression that this plan is a one-time responsibility, you’re not fully equipped to embrace a preventive approach to food recalls. Whenever new employees or equipment sanitation hazards emerge, whenever there are new ingredients that may pose allergen risks, whenever your team pinpoints ineffective control measures, whenever documented production flow processes deviate from actual ones, whenever compliance mandates change or industry standards evolve -- whenever these or any other food safety-related elements shift, so must your HARPC.
The best way to make sure these changes are accurately updated is to commission a team of employees that meet regularly to assess obvious and underlying problems as well as record and communicate revisions.
Lesson 3: Implement a Dynamic Documentation Process
Food recall prevention relies heavily on your company’s ability to standardize safety activities, promote organization-wide transparency and keep records of all associated efforts, at every juncture of the supply chain and manufacturing process. In these regards, documentation is the glue that binds them all together and supports proactivity.
It’s essential to ensure that you develop and enforce a formal, dynamic process for collecting and utilizing detailed, efficient, accessible documentation in areas such as:
- Your food safety plan
- Routine testing results
- Investigative testing results
- Corrective actions
From data analysis to compliance audits, robust documentation is crucial to adopting a proactive approach and preventing a food recall.
Lesson 4: Ditch Your Manual Reporting Systems
Manual reporting systems are labor-intensive, time-consuming, counterproductive and frustrating. If you’re still relying on worker-managed spreadsheets and paper-based methods, your company is vulnerable to experiencing efficiency barriers and gaps in communication that can lead to a costly recall.
Don’t hold your food safety efforts back any longer. Choose a smart, reliable, time-saving software solution that enables you to:
- Keep all of your records digitally stored and available in one centralized database
- Easily access data to compile automated reports that provide valuable insight to your teams
- Identify hidden insights and trends that can be leveraged to improve your prevention plan
The most effective way to rectify inefficiencies in your recall prevention plans, make informed decisions, take required actions and be truly proactive is by embracing an automated reporting system that fosters control and insight.
Lesson 5: Develop a Comprehensive Training Program
Because food safety touches every level of your organization, it is paramount to ensure that education and training extend to all employees, not just those on the plant floor. While recall prevention may begin there, it is also affected by a myriad of other departments, including:
- Plant managers
- Corporate quality and food safety personnel
- The corporate supply chain
- Quality assurance
- The laboratory
- Crisis management
Your organization should be implementing an inclusive, comprehensive training program that prepares members of each of these teams to prevent recall-inciting food safety issues. With the proper education filtered across your company, taking a proactive approach to the threat of a food recall becomes a shared responsibility with more successful outcomes.
The five lessons outlined here are essential to preventing the types of food recalls that can subject your brand to major losses. That said, even with the best-laid plans and formidable prevention efforts in place, food recalls do happen -- and it’s important to protect your brand.
For extra support in the event of a food recall at your organization, access your free Food Recall Recovery Kit.
About Mike Koeris
Dr. Koeris is co-founder of Sample6/Corvium and BiotechStart.org, a non-profit in the Biotech / Lifesciences arena. Michael specializes in development and innovation within biotechnology, startups, venture capital, technology transfer, management consulting, and is an avid basketball fan and master of the pick 'n roll.
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