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Recalls: Lessons Learned

Product Recall

In the last year, I have worked side-by-side with industry folks as they navigate the aftermath of a recall. Every recall is unique and presents its own unique challenges, but here are some lessons I learned and can share with you. That is, most of this experience remains confidential.

Are you sure you must initiate a recall?
As a food microbiologist with expertise in lab methods, you need someone on board who understands the testing methods. You can find this expertise with your contract lab or with a consultant, if you don’t have it in-house. If you are initiating a recall due to a pathogen, you need to understand that these tests are comprised of many steps, and therefore days, before a positive pathogen test is confirmed. If that concept is foreign to you, find your person who is going to ask what method was performed and what was the result at every step. Where was the test performed and by whom? Labs make mistakes! Be absolutely certain that the positive pathogen result is true before initiating a recall. I have a story about this that is so bad, I can’t even put it in writing. Warning: be very certain.

Get yourself a good lawyer.
My cousin Vinny is not qualified to be your recall lawyer. Most companies use an outside lawyer or firm for business dealings on a routine basis. Your company attorney may be a relative or friend. This is not the person to work with you in a recall. The lawyer must have experience communicating with FDA. I have heard stories of lawyers thinking they are going to strong arm the FDA, they tell off the FDA, and the food facility just gets greater scrutiny and ends up doing even more work for the FDA. There are lawyers and firms who specialize entirely in working with the food industry and its government agencies. Hire a great recall lawyer. It is going to cost you a lot of money. Recalls cost a lot of money. If you want to fix the problem and resume operations, hire a great food recall lawyer.

Don’t move that product!
After a recall has been initiated with the codes of the recalled product, you probably will have product on site. It will be in the way. You will want to move it out of the way and into long-term storage. Don’t move that product, unless you have written permission from your state or federal recall coordinator. From my experience with product contaminated with a pathogen, that product is now considered hazardous material and must be handled as hazardous material. First, that means you must protect your workers, so that they do not become contaminated. The recall coordinator will want to know how much product was produced, where it went, and how much is under your control on-site or in company-owned warehousing. Once you have that information, you may present a plan for storage and moving the product into storage. To move the product during a recall looks nefarious, and you do not need any extra headaches during the recall.

Unfortunately, food recalls are an every-day occurrence and no company is exempt from the possibility. As much as possible, be prepared. If you are in a recall, be smart. I hope you can learn from these lessons.

The search for forms and checklists can be overwhelming. The ConnectFood website has free resources. After you sign in for free, you will have access to forms and checklists. The folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Dr. Kathy Knutson has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.

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