Getting Recall-Ready

Ten steps to effective recall management.

August 18, 2023

Despite their best efforts to maintain product safety, most food companies will come up against a safety or quality issue that may warrant taking action. The key is to be ready when this happens.

A thorough recall program isn't just a regulatory expectation. It's also crucial for maintaining consumer trust and safety. With the right program in place, you'll be ready to manage product issues quickly, smoothly, and thoroughly.

With our years of guiding companies through food recalls, both in-house and as external partners, we've got you covered. In this post, we'll cover best practices, common mistakes to avoid, and everything you need to know to navigate this process like a pro.

Common pitfalls

Here are the common mistakes that food companies make related to recalls:

  • Underestimating the scope: Some companies may underestimate the volume of the affected product, leading to incomplete recalls and continued issues.
  • Neglecting communication: A lack of clear communication protocols can lead to confusion among consumers and damage the company's reputation.
  • Poor record-keeping: Insufficient record-keeping can hinder product traceability, slowing the recall process and creating preventable stumbling blocks.
  • Waiting too long: Delayed recalls can increase both the scope of customer exposure and the risk of regulatory scrutiny.
  • Inadequate training: Without proper recall training, team members may not be prepared to handle the recall effectively.

Understanding these frequent missteps is the first step towards improving your company's recall procedures. Now let's look at some best practices for recall readiness.

10 steps to a strong recall program

To build a robust recall program for your operation, start with the ten key elements below:

  1. Food safety system. Your system must include effective preventive measures to control the risks that apply to your product. Continuously monitoring controls helps avoid and detect potential issues.
  2. Dedicated recall team. This cross-functional team should include members from quality assurance, legal, regulatory, PR, and operations.
  3. Issue management. Establish a streamlined process for regularly reviewing potential from all sources, including customer complaints, suppliers, and internal observations.  
  4. Recordkeeping. Maintain detailed distribution records that include lot codes, shipping dates, and customer contact info to enable targeted recalls.
  5. Traceability. Ensure your traceability systems can quickly track ingredients and finished products throughout the supply chain and distribution system.
  6. Product testing. Perform rigorous product testing and verification before distribution.
  7. Written recall plan. Your recall plan should detail coordination and escalation procedures, communications protocols, and methods to retrieve products.
  8. Recall training. Conduct training exercises and simulations to test your recall system, identify gaps, and create a culture of continuous improvement and preparedness.
  9. Supply-chain management. Audit suppliers and maintain supplier-approval programs to ensure ingredients meet specifications and relevant safety and quality standards.
  10. Allergen control. Follow strict allergen control procedures and product changeover protocols in both internal and partner facilities.

My recall program is a work in progress! What do I do if an issue comes up?

First, don't panic. Remember, consumer safety is paramount—so start by identifying and understanding the problem. Then, promptly engage quality, safety, and regulatory experts to evaluate the health hazard and assess any potential health effects. This exercise is often called a “Health Hazard Evaluation” or HHE. The HHE is critical to inform your recall strategy, including the communication plan, recall scope, and how to involve regulatory agencies.

If a potential health hazard exists, then move onto the key steps of conducting a recall. To help guide your recall assessment and implementation, we've put together this step-by-step sample flowchart:

Download this flowchart

Learning from every recall exercise, including the inevitable challenges, will strengthen your recall program in the long run.

By following these best practices and avoiding common mistakes, you'll be able to effectively manage recalls, ensuring consumer safety and protecting your brand's reputation. In this fast-moving industry, being proactive and prepared is key.

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