Listeria. Salmonella. E. coli. Undeclared ingredients and allergens. The number of food recalls has increased over the past decade, leaving many companies scrambling to respond while millions of people are sickened every year by foodborne illness.
To be sure, food safety management should focus on risk-based controls that prevent the need for recalls. But the complexity of today’s complex supply chains combined with the fast pace of manufacturing means sometimes problems slip through the cracks.
The difference between a company that gets dragged under and one that can weather the storm often comes down to recall management. An effective response requires having all the information you need to act quickly, something made much easier with integrated data.
Some recalls are initiated externally, while voluntary recalls may result from a problem discovered internally. While nobody wants to launch a recall, taking voluntary action demonstrates integrity and a commitment to protecting the public. What’s more, early identification of problems helps minimize damage, both to consumers and the business.
One area that can really help is integrated complaint management, which allows you to:
- Quantify risk associated with customer complaints, promoting rapid response to high-risk problems.
- Link customer complaints with related areas such as supplier records, which can help stem the damage of problems originating outside your facility.
- Quickly correct issues that could turn into larger problems later on.
Tracking Down Product
Once a recall is in motion, one top priority is tracking down and retrieving defective product for destruction. Food Safety Software that integrates data from other systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) improves traceability and lets you pinpoint the exact location of defective product.
Integration with internal production systems also helps you stop the flow of contaminated food products. By linking your Food Safety Management System (FSMS) with these external systems, you can easily find the exact location of products and make real-time decisions to hold or scrap questionable items immediately.
There’s no question that a recall can easily bury you under mountains of paperwork. In addition to communicating with the public, the government will also require you to submit a hefty amount of records. Information you’ll need to have ready includes:
- Recall plan: In addition to outlining how you will implement the recall, your recall plan will include specific roles and responsibilities for making it happen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require the name and contact information for these individuals, as well as your recall strategy.
- Customer and supplier data: Having accurate, up-to-date information on distributors and other customers is critical to getting the word out quickly in a recall. Companies are also required to submit this information to the FDA.
- Inventory data: You’ll need to provide lot numbers, labeling information, product description and expiration date. Your company will also need to report the volume of recalled product, including total quantity produced and distributed, dates and where defective product remains in the marketplace.
- Hazard details: You will have to produce accurate records describing the problem in detail, how it happened, how and when it was discovered and a health hazard assessment.
- Recall evaluation: After notifying consumers and tracking down as much defective product as possible, companies are required to submit recall status reports to the government. Before terminating the recall, you’ll also have to provide a final status report and documentation of recalled product disposition.
An integrated FSMS capable of pulling information from areas like sales, distribution and document control is critical to keeping all of this information straight. Having a centralized location to track recalls also streamlines communication with the public and regulatory agencies, creating a complete record of your efforts in the process.
Correcting the Problem
As part of the final status report, the FDA asks companies to provide information on the root cause of the problem as well as corrective actions taken to prevent recurrence in the future.
Because food safety is a function of many different procedures and individuals, you need a holistic view of the entire food manufacturing process to identify the true root cause and make effective corrections.
Key integration capabilities here include the ability to track performance and draw connections to food safety from areas like:
- Employee training documentation and assessment results
- Supplier management activities
- Equipment monitoring and inspection records
In addition, effective corrective action requires quantitative risk assessment to ensure the action plan implemented reduces risk to acceptable levels. Because as many companies have realized, it’s not enough to just wipe up the mess and patch up a few holes. The real question is, how did those safety “holes” get there? Integrated food safety management is the key to answering that question.