The Global Food Recall Dilemma – by John G. Keogh published on Linkedin 17-Jul-14
The opinion I share here is based on 6 years of significant travel and countless hours in capacity
building workshops with the public and private sectors on all continents.
The Global Food Recall Dilemma.
In 2008, 23 people died in Canada from Listeriosis poisoning after eating contaminated deli meats.
Having experienced this massive and confusing food recall first hand, I was eager to get involved in
an initiative that was just starting in the USA. Let's take a look back.
In a 2008 study of US food manufacturers by AMR Research, it showed that it took an average of 18
days to "sense and act" on a food recall. Once launched, the recall took 42 days on average to
complete. After the 42 days, only 43% of products in the most serious health risk category were
traced. This was unacceptable to US industry leaders - something had to be done to improve food
traceability and the ability to recall more effectively.
Historically, there may be the assumption that once a nation’s food safety regulatory framework is in
place, a food recall should run smoothly, but that’s not always the case. While exceptions exist, food
safety standards and regulations are generally non-prescriptive in nature and typically define “what”
needs to occur in the event of a recall. But the dilemma facing industry was the “how to”. In simple
terms - the public and private sectors speak in a different language.
Product Recall is a non-competitive process
The food recall process (how-to) should be considered as non-competitive and the need for industry
collaboration was urgently needed in 2008. This urgency was in motion well before the 23 deaths in
Canada came on the radar. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC),
there are 150,000 food safety related hospitalisations and 3,000 annual deaths in the USA.
To address the recall process itself (how-to), industry mobilised under the leadership of Grocery
Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI). They engaged with industry
standards body GS1 to find a standards-based global solution.
Together with GS1, they initiated the development of a global (GS1) recall standard and the
development of a national B2B portal to facilitate a more effective and automated recall notification
Cloud-based national recall portal changed the rules of the game
The strategy to implement a cloud-based B2B recall portal with unprecedented low-cost for
subscribers was a game changer.
The portal facilitates and automates a GS1 standards-based recall process where a manufacturer
could share recall alerts to all downstream trading parties within seconds. The manufacturer can
verify who received and viewed the alert in real-time and receive confirmation of actions taken. The
annual cost to subscribe to the US recall portal, as an example is less than $ 2,000 for the largest
global manufacturers and this scaled down according to company revenues (note: this model varies
per country as industry leadership committees and GS1 set the subscription fees base on a non-
profit, cost recovery model).
Currently the US portal- Rapid Recall Exchange is used by an estimated 90% of all volume food
companies with many success stories from major global corporations - proving significant value can
be achieved. A very successful national B2B food recall portal is also in place in Canada, facilitated
and hosted by GS1 Canada. Under their visionary leadership, industry has gone a step further and
also included product recall for general merchandise, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Down under they aligned and extended B2B alerts with B2G !
In Australia and New Zealand, the national recall portals have been extended to incorporate the
food regulatory body as a key stakeholder (and why not?). Enabling an extension of the core
business process for recall from B2B to include an integrated B2G strategy. The B2G approach is
indicative of the willingness of both the Australian (FSANZ) and New Zealand (MPI) governments to
develop strong public-private partnerships for improved shared outcomes. An excellent example of
how it can be done together with a common language across the public and private sectors.
GS1 South Africa has also deployed a national food recall portal in collaboration with their parent
organization, the Consumer Good Council of South Africa. The 5th country in the world to do so.
The Dilemma - 5 countries in 6 years !
Despite 6 years of global capacity building, many hundreds of hours in briefings across more than
30 countries, industry in many countries have passed on the opportunity to streamline and automate
a non-competitive process that can enable efficiencies, reduce risk and potentially save lives.
The barriers to implementing this standards-based capability are few but the willingness of industry
in many countries is lacking, even when their parent companies may have been a leader/driver of
the US or Canadian initiatives. What’s left now is more of the same, as a manufacturer with 10 retail
clients, you may have to follow 10 different time consuming and costly processes that could easily
have been automated.
The leadership of the countries mentioned here should be celebrated. But we need to ask the
question, what is holding the other countries back?
Image credits: Fotolia