2 More Lessons from 2016’s Biggest Recalls (Part 2)

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Last week, we took a look at some recalls last year that were massive in scale, both in quantity of product recalled and geographic area. This week, we take a closer look at some of the more complicated recalls of the year: those that involve ingredients that were then used in other products. What can the industry learn about complex supply chain management?

Allergens Can Come From Anywhere

Lessons from Grain Craft

Flour is certainly one of the most basic ingredients in food production. Grain Craft, which does not sell directly to consumers but rather sells in bulk to other food companies, issued a recall after the popular Hostess brand investigated their products following reported allergic reactions from two child consumers. Testing revealed peanut residue, leading Hostess to recall 710 000 cases of snack cakes and doughnuts. Through Grain Craft does not produce peanut products, they traced the contamination to a facility in South Georgia, near where peanuts are grown.

An Allergic Living investigation suggests that the peanut residue could have been introduced during transportation due to improper cleaning of a rail car. Alternatively, the culprit may be crop rotation or co-mingling from other sources, though experts say that cross-contamination during the growing process is unlikely.

Other companies affected by the recall — a list that expanded over two long months as the complexities of the recall unfolded — include major brands such as Kellogs, Mars, Frito-Lay, and CSM Bakery Solutions, as well as Cinnabon, Chick-fil-a, 7-11, and Safeway. The recall was widespread enough to extend to the Caribbean and South Asia. While it is difficult to estimate the total financial impact of the recall, the incident has led to some reforms in transportation, especially in light of the new Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule introduced by FSMA in June 2016.

Check Your Suppliers & Use Technology to Narrow the Size of a Recall

Lessons from General Mills, SunOpta, and Aspen Hills

Grain Craft wasn’t the only flour producer to be affected by a recall. An E. coli outbreak that sickened 63 people across 24 US states between December 2015 and September 2016 was traced back to flour produced at a General Mills facility in Missouri. The investigation led to a voluntary recall for products produced between November 14, 2015 and December 4, 2015, later extended to include all products produced through February 10, 2016 at that facility.

The plant in Kansas City, Missouri remained open as General Mills officials stated that no E. coli had been found on-site. However, the CDC reported that flour samples collected from the homes of sickened people in three states, as well as samples from the recalled product provided by General Mills, tested positive for related strains of E. coli. The CDC advised consumers that foods containing potentially-contaminated flour should be safe to eat when baked, but the risk of contracting an illness from consuming raw flour remains high. In addition to tasting raw batters and doughs, raw flour can find its way into the finished product in any number of ways.

Sold under three brands and also in bulk to other food companies, 45 million pounds of flour were recalled by the end of July 2016 but (according to usual legal practices) the full extent of the recall remains unknown to General Mills’ customers who received the flour.

The recall of sunflower kernel products by SunOpta due to possible Listeria contamination made headlines in 2016 for its impact down the supply chain as well. The recall, which was expanded several times, originated in SunOpta’s facility in Crookston, Minnesota for products produced between May 31, 2015 and January 31, 2016, although no illnesses were reported.

Other companies affected in the US and Canada included Quaker Oats, Planters, Clif Bar & Company, TreeHouse Foods, and more. Over 100 granola and snack products were recalled. Supermarket chains Giant Eagle, Koger, and Trader Joe’s (broccoli and kale salads) were also impacted.

It’s a fair bet to say that Blue Bell was very unhappy to see its ice cream in the news yet again for a Listeria-related recall, this time due to a cookie dough recall from their supplier, Aspen Hills. While no illnesses were reported and all parties claim that no positive tests were found in the finished product, the recall was issued anyway as a precaution. In September 2016, Blue Bell discovered Listeria during product testing and recalled two products, suggesting that their practices have improved since the deadly outbreak last year as they were able to notify Aspen Hills of the problem in a timely fashion.

At least four other companies issued recalls due to the potentially contaminated cookie dough; reportedly 27 companies received 22 000 cases of cookie dough from Aspen Hills produced between July 15th and September 30th. The information is incomplete as Aspen Hills is not required to identify its consumers.  Other companies such as Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream and Cedar Crest Specialties Inc. did not issue a recall until November.

The Take-Away So Far

In this last case, Blue Bell’s proactive approach allowed for the scope of the recall to be narrowed for the company, if not for the supplier and its other customers. Rapid ability to notify both your suppliers and your customers of potential risk is vital to public health and a company’s future, as well as to identify the source of a contaminant or other hazard. With the Grain Craft recall, it took two months for the related recalls to roll out, leaving many consumers at risk of consuming a dangerous allergen. With allergens a rising cause of food recalls, this risk in particular must be a priority for food producers.

Technology plays a vital role as the food supply chain is becoming increasingly more complex — and global — than we’ve ever seen before. Advanced traceability, allergen management, and vendor management technology integrated directly into your operations can minimize the size and impact of a recall (and save on insurance costs). The right tools can keep track of individual lots of incoming and outgoing ingredients and product and provide invaluable data when determining the necessary scope of a recall. A single, centralized system for managing food production keeps all your data clarified and organized for your stakeholders, health inspectors, and, customers at all times.

For the Comments: How is your company managing today’s reality of a complex supply chain?


Stay tuned for the final part of this series on 2016’s recalls, where we we look at some of the most serious and, in some cases, deadly recalls of the year.

Interested in learning more about complete food production management technology? Request a demo of Icicle >>

Image Credit: Star Tribune

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