(This blog post by Dr. Ben Chapman was published June 2, 2014, on Barfblog and is republished here with his permission.) A couple of years ago, I heard a retailer food safety dude tell a group of farmers that his team keeps track of companies linked to illnesses and recalls. The buyer paid attention to how the incident was handled, especially watching for an expanding recall (indicating poor sanitation or traceability) and any public comments by the company. The collected info. was used to evaluate whether they would buy from the supplier in the future. Being linked to tragic illnesses usually results in more than just writing off product; fallout also often includes a loss of trust within the buying community and a poor reputation with consumers. And that’s what I told Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business  when he asked what might be ahead for Wolverine Packing Co. Here’s part of his story:

The business fallout from Detroit-based Wolverine Packing Co.’s May 19 recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli bacteria won’t be known for some time.  Investigations, both internal and by government officials, are underway. So is at least one lawsuit. Wolverine, which had $1 billion in revenue last year, declined to discuss any business practices that may change, or how it may be affected financially, until it completes its own internal investigation. “Since the voluntary recall was launched, the company still is conducting an internal investigation into the recall and assisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service as it continues to look into the matter,” said Chuck Sanger, Wolverine’s outside spokesman via Hartland, Wis.-based food industry public relations firm Charleston Orwig Inc.

Shea’s article continues:

Bad press and lawsuits trigger worry by suppliers, who may turn elsewhere. “Trying to sell back to that industry that is purchasing can be an uphill battle,” said Ben Chapman, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University.  “The loss of that 1.8 million pounds is one thing. It’s difficult to put a monetary value on (goodwill); it’s more than just the product.” Companies that have closed in the wake of a major recall couldn’t survive the combination of lawsuits and loss of trust, Chapman said. In Wolverine’s case, he expects customers to have questions no matter what investigations show. “If everything is up to what’s expected, the buyers may say, “What are you to doing to address what went wrong?’ ” he said. “It’s not a random act. Something happened. Either the system they have failed or the system they have wasn’t good enough.”

Add, “If I buy from these folks, will I be increasing the risk of foodborne illness for my customers – because that’s unacceptable,” to the list.
  • K Burris

    Is that list of companies linked to illness and recall available for public eye?

  • Aftan Romanczak

    I think Ben needs to get out of his ivory tower and research his facts before casting aspersions. Wolverine has one of the best recall systems in country. for tracking product. This can happen to anyone! Chapman criticizes them because they wouldn’t talk to him. Poor food safety elitist Dr. Ben. You are no better than the clowns who opine at the NY Times on crap they know nothing about.

    • Sansher

      from the horses mouth: Lansing has told the local county health units in an e-mail that they cannot go to establishments in their county to check that items on the recall are still not on shelves. The reason being that Lansing has an MOU with FDA which does not translate into the county level. This is part of the food survelliance system in that State. Lansing has said that some of their State employed inspectors will go out and check for product. Between this the latest GM problem, and my brief experiences in regulation there, I would comment that Michigan might look at changing their regulation model. Pure Michigan.

  • Fred Tabacchi

    Aftan, take a look at the original article. I read it as Wolverine wouldn’t speak with the author (Bill Shea).

    • Aftan Romanczak

      Fred, you aright, but they have always been consistent with their policy of not speaking but what they do right is traceback every case. I have a client who uses them and I have used them for ten years and I can say firsthand that these guys are first class at food safety and their surveillance. I have spoken at conferences about food safety throughout the years and I always use them as an example for doing the right thing and having an excellent program. I don’t blame them for not talking, In general, the press is just looking for a scape goat and it bites my ass everytime an academic with no real world experience opines on shit they know nothing about.

      • Zoey

        Amen Aftan!

  • Natasha

    As a consumer, my impression is that the Wolverine Packing Company was proactive on this recall, unlike Foster Farms. Why is Wolverine the example in this article?