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The Future of Recalls

July 10, 2023

The Future of Recalls

As the summer season brings its typical increase in food recalls, I am again watching the traditional approach to product recalls prove insufficient. Miscommunication, compliance confusion, inaccurate product data, and a slew of other recall process missteps continue to cause disruptions and increase the chance of harm to consumers. With digital tools at our disposal and regulatory motivation to rethink recalls, now is the time for a transformative shift to enhance consumer protection and minimize the impact of recalls across the supply chain.

The Current Recall Landscape

The commonality of recalls and withdrawals isn’t the problem. Mistakes occur and things go wrong, no matter how much effort is put into avoiding them. While quality assurance and control programs have helped reduce risks, recalls still happen, and their consequences reverberate through the supply chain. However, I have yet to see an equal amount of effort put into the reverse logistics and crisis management needed for the supply chain to operate as efficiently to get product off the shelf as it does to get it on. Despite the widespread effect of recalls, there is no standardized way to execute the process that ensures everyone - manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers - are able to take action quickly and accurately. 

The problem lies in the fragmented approach to recalls. Because recalls are infrequent for companies that produce product and no standard is followed, information flows down the supply chain in all kinds of formats. A subject-matter expert hands off recall information to a company’s sales team, who then passes the information to buyers at the impacted consignees, who then hand the information to others who take the necessary action. This process adds time and is ripe with information gaps and errors. The universal issue cited by the retailer/wholesaler community has been “if only I could get all the information I need fast, accurately, and in a way that I can communicate to my consignees. The biggest hurdle is the amount of time it takes to follow-up with the recall-initiator and get the information we need.” 

Most recall preparedness efforts focus on traceability exercises, ensuring the ability to track products through the supply chain. However, these exercises often overlook vital communications to stakeholders, including consumers, which are essential for swift and effective removal of the recalled product. This fragmented approach, coupled with inconsistent information formats and hand-offs, leads to delays, information gaps, and errors.

To address the challenges surrounding recalls, the industry needs to adopt a new mindset and practice: the Recall Ready Community. This concept emphasizes the importance of accurate information flow and timely actions by all parties involved in a recall. By uniting the supply chain, including regulators, recalls can be conducted seamlessly and efficiently, safeguarding consumer wellbeing.

Principles for a Recall Ready Community

The Recall Ready Community relies on three key principles supported by best practices:

Principle I - Accurate, standard data is shared in a timely manner. 

To ensure effective recalls, industry participants must use standardized terms and data formats that are commonly understood. Clear instructions for proper removal of affected products should be provided, along with consumer-friendly product descriptions that aid in identifying impacted items.

Principle II - Collaborative expectations for recall actions are created, communicated, and measured. 

Regular training and education should be conducted to familiarize employees with their roles and responsibilities in recall management. Trading partners should exchange recall protocols, data requirements, and expectations for performance during recall simulations and actual recalls.

Principle III - Measurement and improvement are vital. 

Recall simulations should be conducted between trading partners to assess functionality, reliability, and areas for improvement. Data should be utilized to measure response and action-taken rates during actual recalls, enabling continuous improvement.

The Path Forward

Implementing the Recall Ready Community concept requires a collective effort and a shift in mindset. It is time to view recalls as a shared responsibility rather than an individual company's burden. Industry workshops, meetings, and the establishment of an Alliance for Recall Ready Communities can help elevate the priority of this concept. Involving additional stakeholders such as insurers, local regulators, and consumer groups will further strengthen the Recall Ready Community.

The existing fragmented approach to recalls is no longer effective in today's interconnected world. By embracing the Recall Ready Community concept, the supply chain can collaborate to ensure accurate information flow, timely actions, and enhanced consumer protection. It is time to come together, think beyond individual interests, and work towards a future where recalls are conducted swiftly, thoroughly, and accurately. The Recall Ready Community is the solution we need to shape a safer and more resilient food industry.

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