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Every year, the USDA manages over 100 recalls (sometimes as many as 150) across the United States. These recalls are made for a wide range of issues, from something as simple as an undeclared allergen to issues as dangerous as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Recently, a wholesale grocer recalled pre-cooked and raw meat and poultry products due to a temperature excursion along the supply chain. This in and of itself is not particularly uncommon, however, the difference between this and more common recalls is the fact that the breakdown in food safety occurred as a result of temperature abuse during transport.
C&S Wholesale Grocers, the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the United States, acts as a distribution company on behalf of their customers. In this recall, C&S Wholesale Grocers had identified temperature excursions for products heading to the retailer Target throughout a couple locations in New York. The recall included ready-to-eat and not-ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, ranging from brands such as Oscar Mayer and Hormel, and private label brands including Market Pantry and Simply Balanced. These meat and poultry products were held at temperatures outside of a safe range that was then inadvertently shipped to the retailer.
Top recall categories in Q1 2019. Source: Stericycle Expert Solutions Recall Index report, https://www.stericycleexpertsolutions.com/recall-index/
Many foods require refrigeration with tight temperature controls in order to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage. This is especially challenging throughout the supply chain, due the many transfers that take place during shipment. Most organizations have minimal, if any, visibility into these inventory transfers. During shipment, it’s likely that the pre-cooked and raw meat and poultry products were exposed to temperatures within the Danger Zone (40 - 145 °F). The Danger Zone is named for the increased likelihood of spoilage from organisms or pathogens. More specifically, the USDA has identified Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella as the culprits to foodborne illness typically found in meats.
Particularly concerning is the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (also known as “STEC”), which cause disease by creating something called “Shiga toxins.” As one of the most potent bacterial toxins known, its essential for organizations like C&S Wholesale Grocers to issue recalls that may result in STEC promptly, but perhaps more importantly, implement systems that can alert stakeholders to temperature excursions in real-time in order to prevent problems before they occur.
FDA Food Recalls and units in from Q1 2017 – Q1 2019. Source: Stericycle Expert Solutions Recall Index report, https://www.stericycleexpertsolutions.com/recall-index/
C&S Wholesale Grocers issued the recall before product could reach customers, which is great news seeing that there was no harm done to the end-consumer. Despite this fact, there is no reason that the excursion couldn’t have been identified in real-time, and corrected before the perishable foods were compromised. Proactive food safety has previously been unrealistic, largely due to the manual methods of temperature monitoring. With IoT, foodservice organizations are now able to monitor temperature in real-time, enabling an alerting structure that can notify key stakeholders before food spoils. By responding to the excursion promptly, C&S Wholesale Grocers would have been able to reduce food loss and avoid a recall altogether.
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