While it makes little sense to belabor the challenges everyone faced in 2020, one small change of note is that recalls were less frequent. Many asked if this was a positive development or if it has exposed a vulnerability by allowing compromised products to remain in the supply chain.
An accurate answer to the question may never emerge. Many factors create the need for recalls.2020 brought needed changes to keep food systems operational and supply chains full but also made the potential list of recall factors even longer.
What can be learned coming out of 2020? What will make reduced recalls not just one more anomaly from the craziest year any of us could have imagined? Is it possible to keep recalls on a downward trajectory as production levels and operations normalize?
The past year has taught some valuable lessons that we can bring forward with us.
Practices promoting personal health also promote food safety. Staying home when not feeling well, washing hands frequently and often, and using vigilance to monitor conditions have all solidified their place as fundamentals of food safety.
Virtual (remote) inspections play an effective role in monitoring operations. Regulatory inspections can be less intrusive yet effective, and automated records (production, maintenance, temperature, cleaning) can make life easier and document sound practices or expose needed improvements.
Focus reduces errors. Fewer line changes from reduced sku counts aid in consistent quality. Freshly trained and re-trained staff increases attention to details and standards. Greater camaraderie and teamwork yields a more conscientious work process and product.
It’s quite possible that lessons learned from the pandemic can continue to make errors less frequent. Even more, the scope of errors when they do occur can be more contained because of the increased focus and best practices. While continuing best practices into 2021 and carrying learnings forward can result in fewer errors that require supply chain corrections, things still will occasionally go wrong.
If 2020 taught us anything, it is that we are resilient and able to adapt in the face of crisis. As the immediacy of the pandemic’s impact fades, our opportunity is to adapt in a direction that serves both companies and consumers. Looking forward, the possibility of fewer recalls because we grew from the challenges we faced is a silver lining to a difficult storm.