Food recalls because of salmonella, listeria and E. coli make headlines, but more than half of the food recalled by U.S. companies last quarter came because of undeclared allergens, according to data compiled by Stericycle ExpertRECALL. Food recalls increased sixfold in the third quarter, and Mike Rozembajgier, Stericycle’s vice president of recalls, shares some insights into the reasons for the increases and advice on how foodservice companies can protect themselves.
What factors were behind the increase?
It’s hard to say with any certainty what’s behind the ebbs and flows in recall activity from quarter to quarter. But what we do know is that regulatory oversight has been increasing in the past year, and we do expect this trend to continue. Recently, for example, the FDA has stepped up its oversight in the labeling of food products which has been evidenced by the increase in recalls initiated due to undeclared allergens. We also know that the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act is designed to curtail the rise in food contamination incidents nationwide.
How can restaurants and foodservice companies better protect themselves from foodborne illnesses?
The FDA and the CDC, which investigate foodborne illness outbreaks that occur in the U.S., offer many materials to help restaurants and foodservice companies protect themselves from foodborne illness outbreaks. Most state health departments also offer additional guidelines on how companies in the foodservice industries can prevent food contamination. They are all easily found on the Web.
By following these publicly available guidelines and educating staff on food safety, restaurants and foodservice companies can better protect themselves from mistakes that could result in food contamination and illness.
Beyond food preparation and foodservice best practices, however, restaurants and foodservice companies should have in place a turnkey communications system that enables the company to respond to a recall immediately and effectively. A solid recall-notification system can help ensure contaminated food never leaves the kitchen.
How can foodservice companies prepare for the event of a food recall?
Regulatory compliance is often a moving target. Because of that, restaurants and foodservice companies should implement standard operating procedures they can apply in response to food product recalls. An effective plan describes the steps that each restaurant or foodservice location ought to take should it find that its items are affected by a recall. And, because the plan is only effective if people know how to use it, it should be tested regularly by knowledgeable staff trained to respond to the situation. That way, your company will be able to identify where it could enhance its recall-response efforts.
Part of this planning and preparation should also include the creation and regular testing of an internal recall communications system that notifies affected foodservice locations immediately, enabling the entire company to respond to a recall in a timely fashion. By having a recall-notification system in place, restaurants and foodservice companies can safeguard themselves from the risks associated with contaminated food leaving the kitchen.
What’s the best approach to take with customers who are upset after a food recall?
When contacted by an angry customer, restaurants or foodservice companies should apologize for the inconvenience and let them know of what the establishment is actively doing to resolve the issue. When communicating with anyone who has a concern about recalled food products, it is critical that you remain open, transparent and respectful of the consumer’s concerns.
During and immediately after a recall, restaurants and foodservice companies should stay in constant communication with regulatory agencies, employees, consumers and the news media. Regardless of the audience, it is critical that they receive the latest information as soon as it is available.
Restaurants and foodservice companies should be prepared to answer every possible question — allow no surprises. It is how your company handles these challenges that will determine if the road ahead will be rough or smooth. If you don’t control what is said about how you responded to a food recall, your employees and consumers will be left worrying over uncertainties.