- Produce supplier Mann Packing issued a voluntary recall late last week of more than 20 of its packaged vegetable brands available at retailers across the U.S. and Canada due to possible listeria contamination, according to CNN and SFGate. Affected retailers include Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Meijer and Albertsons.
- Mann Packing issued the recall alert after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency detected a contamination risk through random sampling. So far, nobody has been sickened.
- Products that fall under the recall include fresh-cut vegetables with “best if used by” dates ranging from October 11 to October 20. "Mann Packing is issuing this recall out of an abundance of caution," the company said in a statement.
For retailers, recalls present a particularly tricky proposition. Although they are typically not the party at fault for product contamination, grocers are tasked with a multitude of responsibilities, from pulling product to reassuring consumers to setting the record straight with news media.
Every retailer has recall procedures in place, and these days companies are able to move very fast. Once grocers receive a recall notice from a manufacturer, they’re able to pull product in as little as two hours. Workers also identify products in backrooms, on trucks and other locations throughout the supply chain, flagging the items before they reach shelves.
Retailers are also improving the speed and effectiveness with which they notify customers. Companies have long relied on media outreach, and these days grocers are using social media to spread the word about potentially contaminated products. Some retailers use loyalty card data to identify shoppers who may have purchased affected items, and will often call or email these individuals directly.
Grocers and manufacturers know the cost of an outbreak. A joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association estimated the average cost of a recall for food companies to be $10 million in direct costs, plus brand damage and lost sales.
More important, though, is the human toll of an outbreak. A 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to Dole spinach sickened nearly 200 and killed three, while a 2008 salmonella outbreak linked to the Peanut Corporation of America sickened more than 700 and is believed to have contributed to nine deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 1,600 people are infected with listeria each year, and about 260 die.
Devastating outbreaks of years past have motivated food companies and retailers to do more upfront testing. The Food Safety Modernization Act is also mandating more preventative testing, and expanding the Food and Drug Administration’s role in setting and enforcing safety standards.
Food testing, according to Gail Prince, president of Sage Food Safety Consultants and former director of corporate regulatory affairs for Kroger, has become so advanced that companies can pinpoint specific batches and ingredients. This results in more surgical recalls that can save time and money.
“Detection has gotten much faster and is pinpointed to a level now where scientists are able to identify an ingredient in a product,” he recently told Food Dive. “Before, they were always just looking at the product level. Now, they can go much deeper.”