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Last week, we looked at some of the major recalls of 2016 with a focus on complex supply chain management in part 2 of this series. Saving the worst for last, an analysis of last year’s recalls cannot exclude the companies below nor the critical lessons their mistakes revealed. Taking a more serious turn, no food company can go without reflecting on some of the worst failures of the year.
Traceability Goes Beyond ‘One Step Forward, One Step Back’
Lessons from CRF Frozen Foods
It was a difficult process for the CDC to find the source of a listeriosis outbreak identified in March 2016, during which nine were hospitalized and three died across four US states beginning in September 2013. Interviews with the afflicted and their families led the CDC to investigate the O Organic brand of frozen vegetables, produced by CRF Frozen Foods. Another frozen vegetable brand from the same company, True Goodness, was also identified through routine product sampling by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. With the latest whole genome sequencing technologies, the CDC was able to link all nine cases to these products.
The recall was massive in scale; more than 350 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands were recalled, as well as at least 100 other products from other companies that used CRF Frozen Foods as a supplier.
The cause appears to have been two-fold. First, federal inspectors found that damaged equipment at the facility precluded proper cleaning and maintenance. Second, the FDA found genetic links between samples collected from Oregon Potato Co. in Washington State in March 2016 and seven of the consumers sickened, prompting yet another recall for wholesale onions that rippled through the supply chain as well.
Listeria Kills: Take Responsibility or Risk Dire Consequences
Lessons from Dole
CRF Frozen Food’s recall constitutes a nightmare for most food companies, but Dole showed us that it can most certainly get worse. No stranger to recalls as producers of relatively high-risk salad products, Dole is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice following a listeriosis outbreak that killed four and hospitalized 33.
The outbreak began in September 2015 and extended across multiple American states and Canadian provinces, leading federal agencies to identify the Dole facility in Springfield, Ohio as the source of the outbreak. The investigation revealed that company officials knew that Listeria tests from their products came back positive several times as far back as 2014.
A widespread recall was issued for salads produced at that facility in January 2016, but the facility was back in production two months later. As opposed to flour and other products recalled this year, the upside is that the shelf life of salad products is relatively short and easily traced. The problem was exponentially worsened by the length of time the Listeria contamination was kept under wraps, leading the leading supplier to continue to ship the dangerous product to thousands for over a year.
The problems at the facility go even further. At least as early as March 2014, the FDA cited 16 problems at the facility that caused food safety risks, including failures in routine sanitation and facility maintenance.
Nurture a Food Safety Culture: Fix Problems Promptly and Thoroughly
Lessons from Kellogg, Sabra, and Bar-S
Kellogg Eggo waffles were recalled again for risk of Listeria following a similar incident in 2009. Rather than the Buttermilk Waffles, 10 000 cases of Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles were recalled this time in 25 states. No illnesses were reported, but the FDA had previously sent Kellogg two letters pointing out a serious of health and safety violations (“significant violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practices”) at two separate facilities in the state of Georgia.
The popular Sabra brand also recalled certain hummus products due to evidence of Listeria contamination found at their facility by inspectors. Products made before November 8, 2016 were recalled, though no evidence of Listeria contamination was found in the finished product. The high-profile recall affected dozens of other companies that used their product as an ingredient (such as 7-Eleven sandwiches) or as part of vegetable snack trays and the like.
But Listeria is difficult to control and it has been less than two years since Sabra’s last Listeria-related recall: in 2015, Sabra recalled 30 000 cases of hummus due to similar concerns over Listeria contamination after Michigan state health officials tested prepackaged products. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, following the November 2016 recall, the FDA collected “27 swabs of the processing environment that contained Listeria monocytogenes. Analysis by pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) revealed that one of the strains of Listeria monocytogenes found during the recent inspection matches a strain found in a retail product sample collected in 2015, indicating this strain of Listeria monocytogenes may be persistent in the production environment.” This time, though, it appears that they’ve committed to using new technologies to make their products safer and to strengthen their business.
Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry, but this story raises a lot of questions. Rather than initiating a recall due to evidence of Listeria (no trace was found), Bar-S Foods notified the USDA Food Inspection Service that it would recall nearly 400 000 pounds of chicken and pork hot dogs and corn dogs produced on July 10, 11, 12, and 13 2016 due to possible Listeria contamination. The cited reason was “recurring Listeria species issues at the firm”. No illnesses were reported.
The Final Take-Away
In the first part of this series, we looked at large-scale recalls caused by extraneous materials (which appear to be on the rise) and the need for precision in determining the scale of a recall. We also learned about the importance of employee training. In the second part, other companies revealed important lessons around complex supply chain management and traceability that went far beyond “one step forward, one step back”.
In the final part of this series, we dwelt upon the unpleasant: deadly and dangerous recalls, as well as recurring problems with the same companies and facilities. Of course, some of these examples demonstrate the kind of egregious errors of judgement and possible criminal behavior that isn’t relevant for the average food producer. But they are also reminders of the persistent nature of many systemic food safety issues, whether it be a stubborn pathogen, a problematic facility, or a lack of food safety culture at any level of production — and these problems can happen anywhere.
Complex problems require advanced solutions to address them fully. Too many companies are still using outdated and simplistic methods of ensuring food safety and product quality, requiring binders and binders of manually collected data in the age of an Internet of Things. The risks are high and unacceptable, so food producers must realize that technology solutions can dramatically simplify and streamline their day-to-day operations.
Hopefully, with these lessons in mind, food producers will begin the new year with an eye toward higher quality and safety standards, a better food safety culture, and use the most advanced technology to maximize company performance and public health.
For the Comments: How is your company utilizing the latest technologies and nurturing a food safety culture?
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Image Credit: Courier Journal