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Yum! Finds Supply Chains Can Foul Up Food Safety Worldwide

Supply chain failures, first in China and now in Canada, might have Yum! Brands CEO David Novak singing that old Frank Sinatra song about “riding high in April, shot down in May.’”

Novak, also a motivational speaker and author, was coming off a year that saw a book published not long after being named as the New York Stock Exchange’s CEO of the year. In less than a month, supply chain failures in China and Canada have left Novak with a lot more to worry about than just being uplifting.

Two of Yum’s restaurant chains, KFC and Taco Bell, are at the center of a food safety crises. The first involves chicken suppliers in China that have left its KFC outlets very much on the defensive. And the second involves California-grown lettuce supplied to both KFC and Taco Bell outlets in Canada.

In China, which represents 44 percent of Yum’s annual revenue, the issue is whether KFC stores are getting their raw chicken from suppliers that have used higher than permitted levels of antibiotics. Juiced chicken suppliers have been the subject of both media and official inquiries in China, and KFC came under heavy criticism.

Yum! Brands’ Sam Su, chairman and CEO for China, apologized last week for not reacting fast enough, and for poor internal communications.

“Our food is perfectly safe to eat, and KFC in China has very strict food handling and quality control standards that meet or exceed all government regulations,” Su said. He said suppliers are required to follow those standards to ensure food safety.  KFC has 5,100 outlets in China.

“We regularly audit our suppliers, and if we ever find a supplier in non-compliance, we take immediate corrective action to resolve the issue, including terminating the relationship if that is warranted,” he said. “We will continue to cooperate with the Shanghai FDA as they conclude their review and hope to use their findings to strengthen our industry-leading standards and processes to prevent isolated supplier issues from repeating in the future.”

Yum! Brands, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has now disclosed that negative publicity in China over the poultry issue late in 2012 is now likely to mean same store sales in the country are going to be off by 6 percent.

It has dropped the suspect suppliers, but was apparently slow in getting the word out to its customers in China.

Just as it was charting its recovery in China, however, Yum! Brands was hit with another supply problem in Canada as California-grown lettuce served at its Taco Bell and KFC units was found contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, causing at least 26 illnesses.

Yum! Brands reacted more quickly in Canada. Sabir Sami, CEO for Yum! Restaurants Canada, said the company is “obviously concerned.” Sami said all the affected lettuce has been removed from its restaurants in Canada, adding that its “food is perfectly safe to eat.”

FreshPoint in Toronto, a subsidiary of Houston-based food distribution giant Sysco, supplied the Taco Bell and KFC restaurants in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario with the contaminated lettuce. It has officially recalled the lettuce, although it’s unlikely that the product remains in the food chain, according to health officials.

The onset of illness dates for most of Canada’s E. coli O157:H7 cases was between Dec. 23 and 26. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 83 years of age. While there have not been any deaths  attributed to the outbreak, 11 of the 26 confirmed cases required hospitalization and one patient developed the kidney-damaging hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Canadian health officials inspected the KFC and Taco Bell outlets and found no food safety issues that might have contributed to the outbreak, making it likely that only the contaminated lettuce was involved.

Yum! Brands, which also include Pizza Hut, WingStreet, Long John Silver’s and A&W, has over 38,000 restaurants in 120 countries around the world.

© Food Safety News
  • johnmunsell

    The article refers to Toronto’s “Fresh Point”, as being the distributor of the contaminated lettuce.  Should we sue Fresh Point for selling contaminated lettuce?  Would such litigation solve anything?  Would such litigation force the true source to clean up its act?  No.

    Should we sue KFC & Taco Bell?  I suggest that these two entities should not be responsible to test every lb of food it purchases from outside suppliers……….for one thing, there would be no food left to sell.

    If our desire is to truly benefit public health, we should aggressively traceback to the SOURCE of contamination, and Force the Source to implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences.  If the source lettuce farm unwittingly purchased contaminated irrigation water, we must address the source of the contaminated water. 

    Since we now have a global food distribution system, the need to identify the source becomes even more obvious. 

    And consumers (including restaurant chains) deserve the right to know the country of origin of its food ingredients.  Personally, I want to know if China produces any food being offered to me for purchase.  China’s lack of legitimate food safety protocol justifies my refusal to purchase any food of Chinese origin.  However, many folks in the global food system claim that consumers do not have the right to know the origin of food.  I respectfully disagree.

    John Munsell