A recent U.S. PIRG article accused some grocery stores of not doing enough to notify consumers about potentially dangerous food recalls, including those packaged foods that could contain chunks of metal.
The United States Public Interest Research Group graded 26 of the largest U.S. supermarkets on efforts to warn customers about food recalls through clear policies, direct notification, and in-store posters. Not many passed the test.
That’s a dangerous finding. Consumption of hard or sharp foreign material – metal, glass, plastic or even bone — could cause injury to teeth, mouth, throat, stomach or intestine tissues if swallowed.
Just a few months ago, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported that a large dairy manufacturer voluntarily recalled approximately 9,500 cases of cottage cheese products due to the potential presence of pieces of red plastic and metal that may have been introduced during production. A snack manufacturer announced a voluntary recall of a limited quantity of crackers due to the potential presence of small food-grade yellow plastic pieces from a dough scraper that was incorporated into the production process. And an ice cream company recalled half-gallon containers of a certain flavor because a consumer found a plastic tool in the packaged product.
Kudos to the manufacturers who helped ensure the public safety was of the highest priority and recalled the products when they discovered the problem. However, the quick speed of distribution from manufacturer to consumer may result in some products being put on grocery store shelves and purchased before the recall happens. Yet, if consumers are not informed that a product they purchased has been recalled, it could eventually be consumed.
U.S. PIRG notes that a successful recall system aims to notify everyone who delivers, serves or purchases poisoned food:
“…The current food safety system focuses heavily on getting recalled food off of store shelves quickly through a well-defined process followed by regulatory agencies, manufacturers and retailers for removing products. It is the last audience, the individual consumer, who is often left unaware because the recall system requires either proactive action to find alerts or hearing about a recall through media coverage. This can leave contaminated food in pantries, refrigerators and freezers for days or months after a recall.
“Stores can play a key role in customer notification as they are access points in the food safety system that consumers most regularly and frequently interact with. And often, customers return to the same store again and again, so understanding that stores notification policies are critical.”
In a previous article, we wrote that to assure the highest level of food safety possible for their customers, leading retailers have established requirements or codes of practice regarding foreign object prevention and detection. (Read Foreign Object Detection Compliance with Retailer Codes of Practice for Food Safety.)
One of the most stringent food safety standards was developed by Marks and Spencer (M&S), a leading retailer in the UK. Its standard specifies what type of foreign object detection system should be used, how it must function to assure rejected products are removed from production, how the systems should “fail” safely under all conditions, how it should be audited, what records must be kept and what the desired sensitivity is for various size metal detector apertures, among others. It also specifies when an X-ray system should be used instead of a metal detector. (Download our free ebook A Practical Guide to Metal Detection and X-ray Inspection of Food to learn the differences in technologies and which one works best for your types of products.)
The U.S. PIRG believes grocery stores are in a “unique position to keep shoppers safe by effectively informing them about food recalled due to a variety of hazards,” and cited loyalty programs and purchase histories, as ways to discover who purchased the recalled items and then send alerts to them. A policy that takes preemptive action by “…proactively warning customers they may have purchased recalled food is more than a critical mechanism to protect public health — it could help inoculate the grocery store from consumer outrage.” After all, if the stores can send consumers coupons and discounts based on their buying history, they should also be able to send them notifications about items they purchased that have been recalled.
Of course, the best case scenario is for food manufacturers to utilize the appropriate food weighing and inspection equipment to help make certain that packaged products going out the door don’t contain any physical contaminants in the first place. But if an unfortunate recall event happens, by meeting the M&S “gold standard,” a food manufacturer can have the assurance that their product inspection program will provide the confidence that major retailers are increasingly insisting upon for the safety of consumers. At the same time, it also provides their brand with the best possible protection.
- Read the white paper available on our Foreign Object Detection Compliance with Retailer Codes of Practice web page.
- Download our free ebook A Practical Guide to Metal Detection and X-ray Inspection of Food