October 31, 2019

Preventing Foodborne Illness Through Recalls

Written by Garret Weigel | Food Safety, FSMA, Supply Chain

Recently, hundreds of pounds of salad from Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Walmart were recalled due to concerns about salmonella and listeria contamination. The food supplier was a California-based company that was responsible for recalling some 2,811 pounds of ready-to-eat salads.


The Difference Between a Recall and an Outbreak

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food recall occurs when there's some reason to believe that a food might cause consumers to become ill; in the case of the salad it was salmonella or listeria that could cause food poisoning and other subsequent illnesses.


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A food producer initiates the recall to take the products off the market immediately to avoid further health problems and to protect their liability. In some situations, food recalls are specifically requested and ordered by government agencies such as the USFDA and the USDA.


There are many reasons that food may be ordered to be taken off of the market: for its proclivity to spread disease and illnesses that could be caused by viruses and bacteria in the food, or foreign objects that have been spotted or reported in the food itself.


On the other hand, when two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is referred to as an outbreak. When there's an outbreak, public officials investigate and focus specifically on controlling the cause so that others aren't getting sick from the outbreak. They're also trying to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks in the future from this product or similar products that may contract the foodborne illness.


Are Recalls on the Rise?

According to an article in Time magazine, recalls seem to be increasing, at least since 2009. They cite a new report from the nonpartisan Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) that says food recalls are indeed becoming more widespread.


More specifically, the total number of food recalls in the United States has increased by 10% between 2013 and 2018. This is after a peak of 905 recalls in 2016, according to the report cited in the Time article. Class I recalls are based on a reasonable probability that the contaminated food could cause a health problem; these instances have risen by about 83% during this time period.


The likely reason why more recalls and outbreaks are happening is speculative. One might be that there are more perishables being transported, and they're simply more susceptible to bacteria or other conditions that could cause harm to human beings. Other theories point to the fact that there's greater oversight, leading to less riskier behavior is occurring that could otherwise result in ill health effects; therefore, the recall is ordered to prevent further crises.


Shippers, Heed Caution

Whatever the reason, recalls and outbreaks are something that should be on the radar of any shipper or supply chain specialist because the demand for perishables is on the rise; therefore, that same produce is delivered to consumers all over the world and in much greater volumes than before.


To be an agile and successful supply chain professional, be aware that recalls and outbreaks go along with the high volume of temperature-controlled cargo. In addition, have strategies and processes in place that will help control the outbreaks to trace and control their delivery and recall from wherever they are in the complex supply chain.


A Compelling Case for Technology

The rising incidence of recalls and outbreaks points to the need to leverage technology to allow food to be tracked and traced. Employing state-of-the-art technology that allows shipments to be monitored in transit, helps justify, or at least provide forensics on why a perishable could be at harm. For example, using a shipping container that is wired with temperature-monitoring sensors will help determine if the cargo could be contaminated. Moving forward, innovative technology will play a critical role in dealing with the growing trend in troubled food shipments as more perishables are transported to and from various places around the globe.


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