Recalling a Recall – Can You Trace It All Back?

reduce_food_recalls_traceabilityFood recalls are, unfortunately, pretty prevalent. From milk to cat food to ribs, it is all over the news. Usually the warning has to do with a salmonella outbreak or some other contamination. But sometimes, as in the case of Kraft’s Oscar Meyer Wieners, there is a packaging problem. In April, a consumer contacted the company to report that the packaging labeled as “Classic Wieners” actually contained cheese dogs. While it may seem a nonthreatening slip compared to bacteria exposure, the packaging error is extremely problematic for anyone allergic to dairy—as that ingredient was not properly listed on the label.

Kraft handled it professionally announcing a voluntary recall of 96,000 pounds of hot dogs across the U.S. But, in today’s sophisticated manufacturing environment where quality control is baked into every process on the production line, it begs the question: How did that happen?

Clearly, there is always room for improvement when it comes to quality control, safety, and let’s face it, the bottom line. Every recall is a costly mistake. In order to fix the problem, however, companies need complete visibility into every aspect of the product, from the supplier to the ingredients to the production process to the packaging. To do that, everything needs to be tracked in an orderly manner by product details (ingredients, measurements, batch processes), and that information needs to be captured as well as shared when necessary.

In 2009, in an effort to address the industry need, the Institute of Food Technologists defined a traceability methodology based on Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) – the events that must be recorded in order to allow for effective traceability of products in the supply chain. That means, any time the product is moved between locations or production lines or “transformed” into a final product or put into a package, it must be recorded.

Defining CTEs is an important part of the quality control equation, but it is only a portion of the overall picture. There is a myriad of things going on outside of the main ingredients and location changes, including people, machines, packaging materials, and, as in the case of Kraft, synchronizing what is in the package with what is on the label.

According to Food Safety Magazine, unlabeled allergens continue to be the leading cause of recalls. There are a variety of reasons why manufacturers use the wrong package or apply an incorrect label, such as, human error due to similar packaging for different products; the use of the wrong terminology in the ingredient list or the allergen “contains” statement; or failure to carry forward allergen information from an ingredient to the final product label.

But all of these mistakes are correctable—and should be fixed before the product hits the store shelf. Visibility and Intelligence solutions for Food & Beverage manufacturers now exist that can help avoid these recalls from ever occurring – but they must be implemented and adhered to in order to work. Manufacturers faced with a recall due to an inaccurate label will have to look through the process to find out what went wrong. And that requires transparent visibility and traceability. Do you have it?


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