Food recalls can be seen two ways – as a positive that the food safety system is working and that products that don’t comply can be traced and withdrawn, or as a negative in that regular recalls are an indication the company has a weakness in their system.
Needing to get products back from time to time is a fact of life for food companies. Even with the best systems in place, from time to time manufacturers have to call their products back, due to the complexity of food manufacturing and old-fashioned human error. Reasons are wide and varied, from labelling issues and undeclared allergens to manufacturing faults.
Though suppliers have full responsibility for removing a faulty product from the marketplace, the safety of products is a shared responsibility throughout the distribution chain. Recalls that are not handled correctly can place consumers at risk, and impose large and unnecessary costs on the companies involved and leave them liable to legal action.
In some cases the effect on the business, particularly small businesses, can be major.
There are the costs to the business of lost sales, and also major supermarkets will sometimes fine a manufacturer or in some cases make them pay for sizable costs of taking products off the shelves. For example, a few years ago one member was initially asked to pay $60,000 to an Australian supermarket chain for a nationwide recall.
The NZ Food & Grocery Council (FGC) estimates the costs of all recalls in New Zealand would be in the millions of dollars a year.
In 2019, there was a rush of nearly 20 chocolate recalls – all of them related to the same ingredient supplier. Recalls as a result of ingredient recalls are far-reaching because in most cases it will affect every single product made using that ingredient across all the company’s customers.
In 2018, FGC made a submission to MPI on proposals to strengthen recalls and risk-based plans and programmes.
Regulatory Requirements – Ministry for Primary Industries
When a problem has been identified in a food product that has moved beyond the control of the manufacturer or importer and into the storage, distribution, retail, or consumer chain, the company concerned should notify MPI. This is best practice.
For most companies operating under a Food Safety Programme or equivalent, their programme may state they must notify MPI when conducting a food recall.
The specifics of each food safety-related recall will vary. There are occasions where the food supplier will need to conduct a trade-level recall only or a full consumer-level recall. The decision for which one is best or appropriate is based on the particulars of each case. This should be determined by the operator in consultation with MPI.
For recalls involving safety issues and where the product has reached the consumer market (such as shop shelves) and still presents a risk to consumers, the manufacturer/supplier can generally be expected to issue a public notification.
To assist notification coverage, MPI undertakes to copy the notification details to its website.
The website contains plenty of information on recalls for businesses:
- An overview
- About recalls: covers the two types of recall – trade recall and consumer recall
- Conducting a food recall: provides a quick checklist on what to do and who to contact
- Developing your food recall plan
Online System – Product Recall NZ
ProductRecallNZ is New Zealand’s efficient online solution for recalling or withdrawing products from the food, grocery and liquor sector. Companies that have registered for the service have at their fingertips a fast, easy-to-use tool to notify their trading partners and (where applicable) the Ministry for Primary industries when a product must be pulled back from the supply chain.
ProductRecallNZ has been developed by GS1 NZ in collaboration with FGC, Foodstuffs, and Progressive. Regulatory advice was provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Both Foodstuffs and Progressive have declared ProductRecallNZ as being the preferred method of managing recalls and withdrawals with their trading partners.
FGC encourages all members to join ProductRecallNZ. To register or find out more information about ProductRecallNZ, go to their website.