If you want to dream a little, how would you change food recalls?

08/26/2012 08:18:00 PM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstFred White, a one-time radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Kansas City Royals. sometimes liked to say, "If you want to dream a little..."

The phrase was uttered before an improbable expression such as, "If you want to dream a little, if the Royals get two runners on this inning they will bring the tying run to the plate." Being the Royals, these dreams never turned to reality.

I thought of that expression in relation to a question I posed to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.


What would you change, if anything, (about) how fresh produce recalls for food safety reasons are issued and reported to the public?

The topic is drawing a lot of notice. Whether it is tardy and useless recalls, the public's recall fatigue, the lack of pertinent detail (such as the names of retailers selling implicated foods) from government agencies,  or fault-finding about reporting of recalls by the press, the topic is in the news.

Food Safety News published a piece recently called "The Recall Drill" here, highlighting the puzzling delay in the recall notice for Chamberlain Farms in southwest Indiana. FSN coverage also refers to a GAO study on FDA recalls that suggested several recommendations for executive action to make recalls more effective.

The Packer also received some scrutiny for coverage of a mango recall in Canada this week. "Don't shoot the messenger" protestations to the contrary, folks chafe against the lack of complete detail in recall notices that can cast into doubt the entire commodity category.

So I ask, if you want to dream a little, what would you change about food recalls and how they are reported?



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Fernando de Saracho jr.    
Nogales Az  |  August, 28, 2012 at 02:19 AM

Best way to handle a recall is to avoid it. Educate every food handler form farm to end consumer. Types of recalls, possible origins, possible sector accountable for it, including the end consumer Establish areas of responsibility, the grower cannot ensure food safety once it leaves his facility other than the root cause being something biological that cannot be detected visually or tested. Possible Participants in a recall: Grower, packer, freighter, first receiver, maybe a re-packer, a cross dock service, a delivery truck, a receiver, and the final consumer. How do we know where the illness originated? Do we have the capacity to identify root cause and apply corrective action in a prompt way, before more people get sick or die. How do we identify and expose the right responsible party to the public or authorities before squashing an entire commodity or country? Each of these food handlers should have documented proof, that when under their ownership all was in the clear. Who is guaranteeing this? Quicker testing starting at each farm before it leaves the farm by batches/lots, & at ports of entry for each load. Educate the consumer as to which illnesses are serious and which aren't, educate the consumer to question the media where they read or heard this. Educate mass media, as to how to report a food recall and apply corrective action when they report based on scant information, damaging the industry because they were in-diligent with their investigations prior to publishing. Mass media is responsible for creating mass awareness, mass fear or mass security, and we are experiencing a learningn curve clearly visible by trends in different publications as to how they report on same issues.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  August, 28, 2012 at 09:01 AM

Fernando, Good thoughts. I especially like your first point. The first thing to do is to make fewer recalls necessary. For example, how producers of a commodity institute mandatory food safety processes/traceability requirements for all marketers? Is it time to make PTI mandatory? Tom K

Fernando de Saracho jr.    
Nogales Az  |  August, 29, 2012 at 11:48 PM

Retailers, restaurants & foodservice companies are the last contact between the food and the final consumer Shouldn't they be the PTI drivers? What good does it do a grower to be PTI compliant, when another food handler in his supply chain isn't food safe oriented, or is a mediocre food handler? Do we truly understand how, why & when these sprouts of food poisoning happen?

Alvaro R    
San Francisco, CA  |  August, 30, 2012 at 08:59 PM

The produce industry should learn from the mortgage banking industry. At the MBA conference in 2008 Barney Frank told the banking industry, "you don't fix it on your own, we will do it for you and you won't like and I won't care if you don't". Boy was he right. Government regulated the mortgage industry without mercy. Probably a much needed step for consumer protection but there were many industry participant who couldn't recover. Mandatory will probably have to be...

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