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Lessons Learned from Sargento’s Recall: Food Suppliers Can Kill Your Brand Reputation
Mike Koeris

By: Mike Koeris on April 26th, 2017

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Lessons Learned from Sargento’s Recall: Food Suppliers Can Kill Your Brand Reputation

Food Safety  |  Food Recall

A food recall can be a manufacturing company’s worst nightmare. In fact, it’s one of the most dreaded possibilities for food safety managers everywhere. That’s because one food recall has the potential to bring your brand to its knees. In response to a recall, consumers may change their purchasing, food preparation and consumption practices, or they may avoid the product for months or years after the recall has ended.

Your customers want to know that the products they’re buying are safe, and a single breach in that trust can have rippling effects that completely deteriorate your brand. Once the news of a recall hits the public, it can become a storm of bad press that turns customers away.

This was an unfortunate reality for Sargento, one of the largest cheesemakers in the U.S., who recently announced a recall of several of its products due to fears of Listeria contamination. The contamination did not originate in its packaging facility in Plymouth, WI, but rather from one of Sargento’s suppliers in Indiana.

Sargento ordered the recall after being notified by the supplier that its Longhorn Colby cheese may have been contaminated. Because the contaminated product was packaged in the same facility as other Sargento products, the company decided to recall those as well.

This is a prime example of how a food supplier can seriously harm a brand’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that every level of the supply chain must be implementing the proper food safety solutions to prevent highly detrimental and costly occurrences of contamination.

The average cost of a recall due to product contamination is greater than $10 million, which includes the expense of communication across the supply chain, retrieval and handling of the recalled product, investigation of why it occurred and implementation of corrective actions to prevent reoccurrence.

This doesn’t even cover the possibility of litigation costs, decreased sales, reputational damage or brand crisis management, which can amount to millions more in losses.

With that kind of value on the line, it is absolutely essential to learn from Sargento’s experience and ensure that proper food safety plans are being executed all along the supply chain. Here’s what your company needs to know in order to prevent a similar fate.

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Employ Top-Notch Testing

It’s vital to detect and control a contamination issue BEFORE it’s released to consumers and causes an onslaught of negative publicity or, worse, leads to any occurrences of foodborne illness. Testing of facility environments, incoming ingredients and finished products must be an integral aspect of your environmental monitoring program and your efforts to prevent a recall.

However, many of the available testing options take 48-72 hours to ship the samples to a central facility and then turn the results around. That’s too much time to properly identify and address a contamination risk before it turns into a full-blown recall situation.Therefore, your best alternative is to implement a fast testing solution that effectively minimizes risk and fully supports your food safety plan. Sample6 has developed the BioIllumination platform, which comprises the world’s fastest AOAC-approved pathogen tests for the food industry. It can be used directly at the plant or in a lab, and it gives you the opportunity to obtain environmental swab results for Listeria within the same day.

These are the kind of efficient results you need in order to detect contamination at the earliest possible point, enforce preventive controls promptly and reduce the risk of a recall.

Institute a Strong Monitoring Solution

Another key to recall prevention that can save your brand from a catastrophic recall is being able to identify where an issue has occurred and then take steps to prevent reoccurrence in the future. In the event that your testing efforts turn up a positive contamination result, immediate action is required to locate the source and remediate the problem.

To accomplish this effectively and efficiently, it’s in your best interest to rely on a robust software solution that enables you to review past environmental results and look for potential hot spots in your historical data, as well as consider environmental traffic patterns of both employees and equipment.With a solution like Sample6’s CONTROL, your data is stored in one organized, easily accessible place, where you can visualize past performance and work with an active, color-coded floor plan that helps generate valuable insights. Not only does the software serve as a repository to document and view your results, but it also drives your Listeria investigations and is a key tool to keep you in compliance with your food safety plan.

In just a few clicks, you have the ability to pull up all of the data, activities and corrective actions associated with a contamination occurrence, as well as issue automatic reports.

This is the kind of solution every member of the supply chain should be integrating in order to mitigate the risk of recalls that can affect your brand in a highly negative way.

Prioritize Effective Communication

Even with a strong prevention place in place, recalls happen from time to time. When this is the outcome, there’s a critical component to ensuring that you contain brand and reputational harm -- and that’s powerful communication.

Transparency and efficiency are critical, and you must have a plan in place to mitigate the damage by communicating with various departments, upper management, the FDA, stores and consumers. Consider the importance of utilizing control software that promotes proper communication.

Sample6 CONTROL provides easy access to an organized database of policies, workflows and reporting, as well as automatic alerts and facilitated documentation. You can enable automatic email notifications to be delivered to sanitation, QA, the plant manager and the corporate team when triggered, as well as follow up when remediations are completed and documented according to your food safety plan.

You’re able to equip every department with the visibility and communication tools they need to respond appropriately to a recall, meet unfolding regulations, satisfy consumers and prevent future risks.

Keep up with Compliance

Food safety rules and regulations have undergone an unprecedented shift, largely prompted by the new mandates introduced by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). These laws turn the focus from reactive food safety measures to proactive and preventive approaches that protect consumers and have the added benefit of helping you avoid a devastating recall.It is important to stay on top of the various requirements for monitoring, testing, documentation, risk assessment and more, and to ensure compliance even as the industry landscape evolves. Make sure that your company -- and all of its suppliers -- are implementing an environmental monitoring program (one backed by a dynamic food safety software solution) that meets these challenges head on.

Heed the lessons learned from Sargento’s experience. When it comes to recall prevention and food safety, don’t put your brand on the line by leaving anything to chance. Take the free FSMA Assessment quiz to see if your EMP has your company as prepared as you need to be.

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