NAPLES, Fla. — Food safety practices are important but companies should also be prepared to effectively handle product recalls.
David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, and Amy Philpott, with the Washington, D.C.-based Watson Green communications firm, hosted a session on preparing for recalls.
After hearing from the Food and Drug Administration, companies should verify if their product was actually contaminated, Gombas said.
Before agreeing to a recall, companies should inquire how inspectors know the product was contaminated and learn what kinds of tests were performed, he said.
Some companies checked their records and found they didn’t distribute the suspected product.
In one case, the contaminated product was sold in an open reused box containing the company’s code, Gombas said.
“There are two kinds of recalls, the painful and less painful ones,” he said. “Fortune favors the prepared but even the best operations can’t control everything that comes over the fence. Everyone is testing their produce.”
The bottom line is all the negatives (tests) in the world won’t help you. All the testing to prove you’re not contaminated is worthless if you get one positive.”
Unprepared companies often make the decision to recall too early or too late, which can be mistakes, Philpott said.
“It’s like being on a runaway bus with everyone’s hands on the steering wheel but yours’,” she said. “If your customers sense that you don’t know exactly what you’re doing or your recall isn’t organized and structured, don’t worry, they’ll tell you. If you listen to one, you are more or less obligated to listen to another and they often have conflicting visions of what to do.
“You’re in the middle between the FDA and multiple customers and state health departments. This take action stage can be very painful if you’re trying to satisfy everyone.”
It’s a credit to growers and packers that the tomato industry hasn’t experienced any major recent recalls, said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a conference co-sponsor.
“We want to give you a better view of what potentially that can happen to you and the kind of things you need to spend some time thinking of and preparing for,” he said. “It’s like buying car insurance. You hope you never need to use it but if someone hits you and you do have to use it, you would sure be glad you have it.”