How Prepared Are You (Really) for a Food Recall?

Columns - Legislative Update

Neither weathering a recall nor simply having written up some policies and procedures is as valuable as undertaking a full crisis response simulation/practice, writes QA columnist and advisory board member Dr. David Acheson.

June 18, 2021

I recently presented a virtual workshop on protecting your brand integrity during a product recall. During the workshop, I conducted a participant poll asking: “Have you ever been involved in a product recall?” I was not surprised to find that a number had been involved in a recall, but I did not expect to learn that 50% of the participants had been involved in multiple recalls. But perhaps that was exactly why they had chosen to attend the workshop. Having been involved in recalls in the past may also have been the reason that 78% of the workshop participants said they did have written recall policies and procedures in place.

Having policies and procedures at the ready is critical when an incident arises, and having been through one — or more — recalls certainly provides lessons learned. But neither weathering a recall nor simply having written up some policies and procedures is as valuable as undertaking a full crisis response simulation/practice. It was heartening to see that 44% of the participants had conducted a recall simulation within the last couple years, but I would have been even more pleased to see a much higher percentage having done so. Why?

While there are lessons that can, and should, be learned when one goes through a real-life recall, you are trying to manage so much in a real crisis that attempting to learn and grow in the midst of it all is not, by any means, the most optimal way to do so. In relation to recall preparation, not having policies and procedures can put a business in a very precarious position, but even when fully written out, they are still just words on paper. It is when those words — and lessons learned — are put into practice that you will truly learn how effective your policies are and how well they will protect your consumer — and your brand.

Implementing a simulated crisis response scenario enables you to test your system — and your people — when you’re not in the midst of a crisis. Companies often choose to conduct these with only one person knowing that it is a simulation, as the more “real” it can be made, the better you can test your system.

For more information on managing the risks associated with recalls, take a look at the TAG Talks: Q&A Recall Management video:

Why is this so critical? Because when you are in a crisis, speed is one of the most critical aspects of success; and if you, and your team, don’t know what to do — if you have not actually practiced it — valuable time can be wasted in figuring out what should be done by whom and when.

Additionally, recalls are costly, and, as shown by the fact that half of the workshop participants had been involved in more than one recall, they are common and frequent. In fact, as listed on the Food and Drug Administration’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts web page, there were 26 food or beverage recalls in March — nearly one a day.

So, how prepared are you (really) for a recall:

  • If you have a recall, will you be able to quickly:
    1. Identify the issue, how much product is involved and how serious the incident is
    2. Appropriately elevate it in your organization, determining who needs to know and when
    3. Have the team ready and knowing what to do — and taking action
  • Do you know what is required by the regulatory agency for each food (i.e., FDA, Department of Agriculture)?
  • Do you know what records need to be kept and have a plan for the recordkeeping?
  • Do you have a communication strategy ready — for your employees, customers, consumers and the media?

As often as they occur, recalls can still be very complex situations, made all the worse if you are not prepared. Not only is quick action needed to ensure the safety of your consumers, but also to protect your brand reputation and, thereby, your business.