The Importance of a Recall Ready Industry. By Roger Hancock, CEO of Recall InfoLink

If it feels like food recalls are increasing in frequency, that’s because they are. Recalls from the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission increased a whopping 115% since 2018, with food and beverage recalls recently reaching a five-year high.

The FDA issued 46 food and drink recalls in January 2024 alone, a 31% increase from 2023’s fourth-quarter monthly average. So far in 2024, dozens of recalls have been issued for foods like cashews, cinnamon, Quaker oats products, salad kits, kielbasa, charcuterie meats, and more.

Foods have recently been recalled because of listeria, Salmonella, lead, insects, foreign objects, and non-food grade ingredients. Additionally, labeling errors – including mislabeling of allergens – have contributed to many recalls.

Why have food recalls been increasing so dramatically? For one thing, the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint aims to elevate food safety using modern technologies. This blueprint encourages food businesses to use digital tools – including AI, machine learning, IoT, and blockchain – to improve trackability and traceability across the supply chain. This better identifies – and resolves – issues that could cause a food safety breach. The use of sophisticated tech tools – as well as increased awareness and regulations – are contributing to more frequent recalls.

Is your business properly prepared for a recall?
No matter how carefully food businesses follow proper food safety protocols, mistakes inevitably occur. Improved quality assurance programs are helping to reduce risks, yet recalls are still happening.
Food businesses – including processors, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers – must be well-prepared to manage a recall, working collaboratively with their supply chain partners. This means shifting their current standards and protocols to become truly Recall Ready.

The foodservice industry faces serious, simultaneous problems:
Companies are acting in isolation. Each company has their own process for handling recalls and they often don’t communicate it with their trading partners until the middle of a crisis. So, no one is on the same page, knows what to expect, or is able to work in sync with each other. Working collaboratively – with standardized processes, data, and practices – is the solution.
A lack of standardized data and processes. Disparate data and processes cause confusion and delays during time-sensitive recalls. Creating (and following) standardized data and processes will facilitate faster, more accurate communication – and better protect foods, people, and businesses.
Practices are ineffective. Organizations may think they’re recall ready, but many companies aren’t practicing in ways that actually prepare them effectively. If a company conducts mock tabletop drills in isolation, they won’t be ready to conduct recalls with supply chain partners, who must work collaboratively to identify and remove contaminated products. Ineffective practice scenarios means businesses are unprepared for the real thing, leading to a false sense of security, confusion, inaccuracies, delays, and miscommunication.
Limited supply chain connectivity can impede smooth recalls. Since this industry is still highly manual, many businesses are working with incomplete, inaccurate data, which limits supply chain connectivity and impedes smooth recalls. When companies continue using outdated manual systems – instead of adopting tech tools – it’s problematic for food safety efforts and effective recalls.

The Industry Needs a Paradigm Shift
Unfortunately, the industry’s fragmented approach to recalls is ineffective in today’s interconnected world. The foodservice industry lacks a Recall Ready Community approach, where everyone in the supply chain works collaboratively with standardized data and processes.

Recalls remain an ongoing (and frequent) occurrence, and it’s time to address the gaps that put public safety in danger. To improve recalls:
Vet your supply chain. It’s important that your company consistently follows proper food safety protocols, but ensure that all your supply chain partners do, as well. If your supply chain partners don’t prioritize food safety, transparency, and communication, it could jeopardize your products, customers, and business. Only work with partners that prioritize food safety, as you do.
Rely on technology. Modern tech tools elevate visibility, transparency, and accuracy across the supply chain, making recalls more efficient and comprehensive. The use of tech tools enables faster/automated communication, tracking action taken, and digital records that make compliance easier. Food businesses should ditch manual systems in favor of innovative, integrated tech solutions to improve the recall process, manage recalls more efficiently, minimize damage, and restore brand confidence.
Become more collaborative. Shift from viewing recalls as an individual company event, viewing them as a collaborative supply chain activity instead. Communicate expectations and processes ahead of time, or work with your trading partners to make a plan together.
Change the way you prepare. Similarly, shift from individual preparation and tabletop exercises to more collaborative recall simulations, working with supply chain partners. These simulations replicate real-life scenarios, allowing companies to test preparedness, refine strategies, and ensure that recall plans are airtight. Additionally, these exercises can be eye-opening for team leaders, who can use them to identify and address process gaps.
Share standardized data. To ensure effective recalls, all supply chain partners must use standardized terms and data formats. Establishing uniform data practices helps streamline the recall process, improve communication, and reduce confusion and response times.
Improve communication. Organizations must develop compelling, succinct, action-oriented recall information and distribute it in ways that key audiences will receive, notice, and act on it. Messages should be tailored to specific demographics – e.g., employees, supply chain partners, regulators, media, consumers, etc. – with specific calls-to-action for each. For consumers, clear, concise language is essential, avoiding technical jargon and focusing on actionable steps they can take. Other stakeholders may require more detailed information about the root cause of the recall and the company’s response plan.
Be honest. When it comes to recall communication, honesty is the best policy. Consumers, regulators, supply chain partners, the media, and other stakeholders value transparency, as withholding information can erode trust and credibility. Provide clear, comprehensive information about what happened, where the issue originated, potential risks, and what you’re doing to resolve the issue. Openness fosters trust and demonstrates a commitment to consumer safety.
Learn from the experience. After a recall, whether a simulation or the real thing, review your process to determine how you could improve future incidents. Use data to measure responses and action-taken rates to enable continuous improvement.

As food recalls continue at alarming rates, our industry must shift away from manual systems, disjointed efforts, and ineffective mock drills. Instead, we must pivot to a new Recall Ready paradigm, using standardized data and processes, clear and proactive communication, proper preparation, and a collaborative approach with supply chain partners.

It’s time for the food industry to unite, lead by example, and pave the way for a safer, more secure future. Together, we must improve the way recalls are managed, protecting not only our businesses but the health and well-being of our customers, employees, and supply chain partners, as well.

Roger Hancock, CEO of Recall InfoLink is one of the world’s foremost experts on recalls, with experience that spans the retail, tech, data, regulatory, and supply chain.

Recall InfoLink, makes recalls faster, easier, and more accurate across the supply chain to protect consumers and brands. As the only company focused entirely on recalls, Recall InfoLink’s solutions drive immediate action, streamline the recall process, and simplify compliance. Recall InfoLink helps brands become Recall Ready by standardizing data, collaborating with their supply chains, and practicing recall simulations.