Reducing the risks of recalls

With research showing that only 21 per cent of all product recalls over the last decade were detected by the company themselves, it is more important than ever that food and beverage manufacturers review and prevent contamination and mislabeling.

The most startling figures from the food industry are those that hint at the major financial burden of product recalls,” said, Tatjana Milenovic, global head of food and beverage at ABB. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the estimated average cost for a food recall is $10 million – and that is only the direct costs to the company, such as the retrieval and disposal of the tainted product.

“Food packaging is advancing in many ways, with its principle roles being to protect food products from outside influences — making it a critical component in the overall safety process. However, contamination and mislabeling risks at the packaging stage are often overlooked and emphasis on food safety usually lies in the preparation of the food itself.”

 The risk of recalls
While most food recalls are voluntary, it is usually in the best interest of a food facility to fully cooperate and initiate a significant risk to human health if a manufacturer or distributor is unwilling to launch a voluntary recall, or if the agency decided that the company’s voluntary action is ineffective.

In 2010, multinational food manufacturing company, Kellogg’s, issued a voluntary recall of 28 million cereal boxes because of an “uncharacteristic off-flavour and smell” imparted to the food from the waxed inner packaging. While the company said that the chance of serious illness from the smell was low, the brand’s reputation suffered, with reports showing that the company’s stock prices fell by 0.8 per cent.

Food and drink processing company, Nestlé, had to mandatorily recall two million litres of baby milk in four European countries due to traces of IsopropilThioXantone (ITX) in its cartons. ITX was in the ink used to print the rolls of material before they were converted into packaging.

Although Nestlé attempted to calm consumer fears that their children were in danger of ingesting ITX, the nature of the recall cost the company around $1.75 million.

Food fraud
Food fraud describes any product that is deliberately mislabeled, misrepresented, diluted or manipulated. Unsurprisingly, profit is the main motivator behind this crime — with everyday products like honey, alcohol, milk and coffee being the most commonly counterfeited goods.

Advancements in software are now enabling manufacturers to monitor supply chains digitally, allowing them to easily identify areas where traceability could be improved. Using intelligent supply chain software, such as  ABB’s Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) software, a food manufacturer can view real-time production data from their suppliers. By adding the supplier’s data to their own, the manufacturer can easily identify if the wrong batch of ingredients has been dispatched, before they are used in manufacturing.

Mislabeling
Properly declaring allergens in products is another crucial process to avert product recall. Once a company has identified the potential allergens, and processed products according to its hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) system, it is responsible for ensuring the product is adequately packaged, labelled and stored.

Considering that someone goes to the hospital for a food allergy reaction every three minutes, it is troubling that undeclared allergens and ingredients are one of the main drivers behind product recalls. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently evaluated allergen-related recalls and found that they are usually caused by new food ingredients, new suppliers, or a misprinted food label. Mislabeling can be easily controlled by an effective quality assurance department.

The effects of recalls can be far-reaching, affecting everything from consumer health to brand confidence. With the increase in automation sophistication to boost productivity and profit margins, it is becoming more achievable to have a clear, set process in place throughout the whole production cycle.

However, even though manufacturers have manual and automated systems in place to check labelling and packaging, it is up to the manufacturer to make sure that their product is up to standard, to make profit and build reliable brands for customers.