Over 40% of Canadian food recalls are triggered by undeclared allergens. While the foods may be safe to eat for those without the affected allergy, they can be deadly for those with the allergy. Therefore, despite not being inherently unsafe to eat, all the lots of affected products must be brought back. This results in substantial costs for the manufacturer and/or distributor involved beyond the damage to their brands reputation. Rebuilding consumer trust with require additional marketing dollars, adding to an already very expensive mistake. In many cases, those allergen recalls were the result of operational failings that could have been prevented with the right systems in place.
An allergen recall can be due to a product being issued in the wrong packaging. Perhaps you make similar products one with nuts, and one without. One of your warehouse workers picks the wrong packaging and you end up putting your nut filled product into the no nut packaging and shipping that product out. This type of error may not be caught by QC staff as they may be focused on ensuring the product is of high quality and safe to consume. If using a pen and paper system, the picker may note on paperwork that they picked the correct packaging, because they truly thought they did.
In other recalls, it may have been a purchasing error. When placing an order for a raw material from an approved supplier, the purchaser may learn that the supplier is out of stock on an ingredient. If the supplier is a larger supplier with multiple plants, they may offer to send you a substitute from another facility. If the purchaser did not confirm that the other facility has the required certifications in place (was nut free for example) and they did not, and the product was received, used in manufacturing, with the end product released to consumers, you could again find yourself in a recall position.
These operational errors tend to fall into one of two classes. The first is a documentation compliance failing, where the original recipe required specific suppliers and ingredients that when not available caused a breakdown in communication of what substitutes would be acceptable. The second is transactional, where a warehouse picking mistake was not caught before product was produced and released. Sometimes the volume of information and continued use of pen and paper systems makes catching these errors challenging. While QC/QA staff are often trained in food safety and traceability, they may be only part of the puzzle in minimizing your risk of mistakes and recall.
Do you train your operations staff in inventory control, barcoding, traceability, and information management systems? Conestoga College’s Institute of Food Processing Technology has recently recognized the need of food manufacturers for training for operations, plant and warehouse staff as well as overall company management on ways to handle the increasing amounts of information they are being required to track. Their response is a one-day course on information management being held April 28 in Kitchener. A combination of education and systems offer an opportunity to help you catch errors, before product has been released, reducing your recall risk and preserving your brand reputation with your customers.