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For Real … What Do I Do? Food Recall?

Every day, I get email notifications or see news reports about food recalls. We primarily think food is recalled because of biological contamination, like E. coli, salmonella, or other pathogenic bacteria in the food. However, recalls are often due to mislabeling of ingredients, failure to declare allergens on the label, or a piece of plastic, metal, or other physical contaminant inadvertently left in the food during manufacturing process. A recent — and memorable — recall was issued over fear of golf ball pieces in frozen potatoes. This prompted a recall of frozen hash browns in nine states over choking concerns. Though serious, that recall made me laugh and wonder who had done some golfing in the wrong place. Whoops!
Food recalls have always been done on a voluntary basis by the supplier or manufacturer. Until 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not have the power to force a recall. Although most food recalls are still voluntary, the 2011 “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act” authorized the FDA to order a recall under circumstances when the company involved does not voluntarily recall the food after being given opportunity to do so.
Personal opinion: Companies that do not voluntarily recall a product will definitely lose money with loss of reputation and resulting lost sales.   So as an establishment that serves food, how do you know if there was a recall by a supplier or a manufacturer?

Trust …
First, trust the distributor who sold you the food. Have faith that your food distributor sales representative will tell you if a product you purchased is affected by a recall. If you buy your food from a grocery store like Sam’s Club or Costco, your loyalty card will let you know if you purchased an item that is affected by a recall. Trust them to contact you if there is a recall on one of your purchases.

But Verify …
Sometimes, there is a delay before you find out about a recall. If you want first-hand knowledge about recalls, sign up for email notifications from the FDA about recalls. Here’s that website: https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/ContactFDA/StayInformed/RSSFeeds/FoodSafety/rss.xml?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
The USDA also notifies the general public about food recalls when the products are meat, poultry, and eggs. Sign up for USDA recall updates at: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFSIS/bulletins/195ec8b.
Okay, now you know there is a recall on a product you regularly purchase. How do you know if you have the specific products affected by the recall? Check your purchasing records to see if your lot numbers are affected. Once you confirm you have a recalled product, write “DO NOT USE” and “DO NOT DISCARD” on the product and put it aside so it doesn’t get used by mistake. Make sure you communicate this key information with your staff. Another good suggestion is to take photos of your affected product. Just as you would take a photo of your car in a car accident, take photos of the product you have in stock as proof of purchase.
Then COMMUNICATE with your distributor representative or the grocery store where you purchased the food and await their instructions. Just as you want product replacement or a refund, so do they from their supplier or manufacturer. They may ask you to keep the food until they can pick it up to send it back to their supplier or manufacturer. Or, they may ask you to destroy the affected product to make sure it does not go back out into the marketplace to be resold. In this example, a produce distributor might send out a recall on wilted lettuce for quality reasons, and if it is not destroyed properly, it could end up being sold again.
What happens if I have already served the food affected by a recall? If the recall was due to mislabeling, hopefully, it didn’t affect anyone. If the recall is due to a possible piece of plastic, rubber, or metal in the food, and you haven’t had a complaint …breathe! And then, take the food in question off the menu. If the food affected by the recall does have pathogens that have made one of your customers sick, then realize that the manufacturer or supplier will be responsible for your guests’ medical bills and any of your legal fees.

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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