(This article by Frank Gublo of Michigan State University Extension and Paige Filice of MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife was first posted July 28, 2014, on the MSU Extension site and is reposted here with permission.)
Food processors should have processes in place, such as a HACCP plan and a recall plan, to evaluate products and the management of complaints related to food safety. Typically, food safety problems are found both internally and externally, through consumer and regulatory notification as well as through internal inspection and laboratory discovery.
Upon receiving notification or a consumer complaint, the food processor should establish a record of the notification. The processor will need to know who is notifying the processor of the problem, including name, address, phone number and email address. Also, record what is wrong with the product, what is the unique batch or production code, what was the purchase date and location and what were the injury or illness, if any.
For small processors, the owner/operator will likely receive the complaint. In larger firms, the person receiving the complaint would forward the complaint to those responsible for the recall plan. In either case, the responsible person should make an initial assessment, and, if necessary, put the recall plan into effect.
The first step would be to determine what hazards have been identified with the food product and determine the public safety concerns. Two basic criteria can be used to determine how to proceed. These criteria are related to how widespread is the problem and what is the severity of the problem. For instance, E. coli O157:H7 is a serious condition, and one illness related to a product should prompt a recall, where less serious and less widespread illness may not prompt a recall.
Beyond the basic criteria of severity and spread, additional criteria may be used in the evaluation and the decision of how to handle a complaint related to a product. Public relations, contracts establishing rules for recalls, and actions by retailers may also influence the decision to enact the recall procedures.
In any case, food safety is a serious concern, and protection of the public should be an important consideration. Having a recall plan is an important piece of any food processor’s business. When a complaint is received, the plan will provide guidelines and eliminate mistakes made under stress when determining what actions to take.
Food processors who are taking their first steps into distribution should consider developing a recall plan. Educators at Michigan State University Extension and Innovation Counselors at the Michigan State University Product Center assist businesses in the establishment of good practices to improve business effectiveness. For further information and assistance with employee communications, please contact your local MSU Extension office.