Recalls in the Food Chain

Recalls in the Food Chain

Problems in the delivery of safe food have been an issue this spring.  Over 200 million eggs were recalled in April over salmonella fears, and earlier in May, Kroger recalled over 35,000 pounds of ground beef contaminated with hard pieces of plastic.

But we’d have to say that one item has gone to the head of the list: Romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli.

The CDC has traced the problem to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona area.  The recall includes all kinds of romaine lettuce, whether chopped, whole head, or lettuce included in salad mix.

Basically, check that your romaine wasn’t grown in Yuma until the situation is under control.

This post is based on the Washington Post article, 22 States Now Affected by Dangerous Outbreak of E. Coli Illness From Romaine Lettuce, by Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach, April 27, 2018. Image source: (c) George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the characteristics that should drive a recall (especially one involving food)?

Guidance: Timeliness is important as people’s lives might be at stake.  Immediate information is important.  In this case contaminated food is a health risk.

Another important consideration is specificity.  Identifying the specific products can help reduce the number of items recalled.  As of the date of this article, they had not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem for romaine lettuce.  This has resulted in all romaine from Yuma being recalled, and telling customers not to consume it.

Additionally, a lack of transparency prevents customers from knowing where the lettuce originated.  A similar problem occurred with the 200 million egg recall.  The problem was traced to a handful of buildings at one farm.  But, more eggs were recalled than just the contaminated eggs due to lack of fast, accurate information.

2. Why is executing an effective recall so difficult?

Guidance: One of the biggest problems with today’s recalls is getting and interpreting the information quickly.  In many cases, we must trace backwards and forwards one step at a time manually through the supply chain.  In this instance, the contamination could have occurred at any step in the supply chain.  This step by step process is slow, sometime taking as long as a month.

Another issue is being able to specifically identify an individual item.  In many cases, the supply chain can’t track a specific item to its origin, which causes a larger number of items to be recalled.

And finally, we need the ability for a variety of different people to see the origin of the item.  Most current systems do not have this feature.

3. How can supply chain systems be changed to improve product recalls?

Guidance: A new technology may offer hope in this area—blockchain.  It has the potential to allow for the quick and transparent tracing of items through the supply chain, such as tracing the source of bad lettuce.  Several OM in the News posts have looked at blockchain, including the way blockchain speeds up tracing items.

4. How should the recall information be used?

Guidance: The recall effort itself should lead to the underlying root cause.  Organizations should use this information to improve the processes to hopefully prevent a re-occurrence of the event.  Many organizations forget to follow-up with corrective action once the recall is over.


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