Clear policies and communication, supported by the right technology, can help manufacturers avoid and manage food recalls.
A number of recent cases have highlighted the challenge posed to food manufacturers by the need to comply with EU regulations on product labeling. Earlier this year, British chocolate company Thorntons recalled an Easter egg because the label did not mention that the decoration on the product contained milk, meaning that people with an allergy or intolerance could have been put at risk.
Recalls like this occur regularly in the food industry. Dr Oetker recently recalled one of its icing products because it contained almonds that were not mentioned on the labeling. And Nestle recalled a batch of milk chocolate bites because it contained peanuts and nuts that were not declared.
Recalls can damage businesses in a number of ways – not only because of the revenue lost from recalling the product, but also through the impact on reputation. And that’s before you consider the possibility of legal action.
Naturally, food manufacturers want to avoid these difficulties. But there’s also a risk of going too far and taking too many precautions with labeling. A survey of 5,000 UK consumers found that 45% were totally confused by warnings like ‘may contain nuts’, and 56% were annoyed by the ubiquitous nature of the information.
So how can manufacturers make sure they are complying with regulation by declaring allergens in their products, without over-complicating consumer information? Here are some key things to consider.
Clear Policies and Procedures
Allergen management within your organization is crucial. You should establish clear policies and procedures governing food handling, preparation and storage to minimize the risk of allergens being transferred from one product to another.
You also need to make sure these are understood, communicated and implemented effectively within the business. It’s important to apply policies uniformly across the organization, and to make sure they are reviewed and updated to reflect any changes in the regulatory and business environment.
Visibility Across the Supply Chain
But it’s not enough just to know what’s going on just within your own organization. Food businesses need to be aware of what’s happening across the whole supply chain – no matter where that is in the world. You should know where each of the ingredients in your products comes from – and if applicable, where the ingredients for those came from.
That way, it’s easier to make sure suppliers are complying with regulations – and to manage a food recall if one does become necessary.
Food production can be complex. It’s important to have an overview of everything that’s happening, otherwise mistakes can creep in.
Gathering documents and data in one place has several advantages. It makes it easier to identify and eliminate weaknesses in your systems, gives staff a common point of reference, and provides more control and consistency.
Automating Risk Management Processes
Some allergen declaration problems are caused by simple human error, like setting up machines incorrectly or using the wrong label or package.
Automated processes can help prevent mistakes like this. They also give you access to more up-to-date information on what’s happening, so you can respond faster if something does go wrong.
Managing Food Recalls
Despite your best efforts, there may be times when a mistake is made and you need to recall food. If that does happen, it’s still possible to minimize the damage. Here are three key elements of an effective response:
Produce a plan – Every moment counts when managing a food recall. But you don’t want to rush and make things worse. The key to responding swiftly and effectively is to have an established procedure. This can be embedded in your culture by carrying out mock recalls.
Media relations – A food recall is likely to generate interest from the media. Make sure that you have a proactive strategy in place so that you can keep people reassured and informed, avoiding damaging speculation and rumours.
Keep a record – It’s important to have documentation of your actions in the case of legal action or an investigation afterwards. And having a clear record will also enable you to review your actions and improve your procedures.
- You should establish clear policies and procedures governing food handling, preparation and storage to minimize the risk of allergens being transferred from one product to another.
- Food businesses need to be aware of what’s happening across the whole supply chain – no matter where that is in the world.
- Make sure that you have a proactive media strategy in place for responding to a food recall, so that you can keep people informed and avoid damaging speculation.
Find Out More About Managing Compliance in Areas such as Food Labeling Regulations by downloading our free eGuide The Quality and Compliance Management Handbook: Supporting a Quality Culture Across Your Business