Standardizing the Communication Process for Food Recalls and Withdrawals
The complexity of today’s food supply chain has made communication during food recalls more challenging to brands. As the chain of ingredient suppliers expands globally, food recall communications become essential in order to respond in a timely matter. When a recall or withdrawal is executed, it is vital to accurately verify information with suppliers, retailers, and consumers.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends having a plan in place to execute as quickly as possible during a recall. The ability to follow a food recall communication plan will help limit damage to your company’s bottom line and brand reputation. Swift action and clear communication can save lives and prevent injuries. In May 2019, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service listed 13 recalls, illustrating that the risk of a recall is no longer a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when.’
How will your company communicate vital information to suppliers, stakeholders, media, and consumers when faced with a recall?
In this blog, we will look at standardizing the communication process before a recall happens. Setting up a plan will prepare your team ahead of a recall or withdrawal event. Having a process for food recall communication will streamline communication and visibility from start to finish. Standardizing communication during recalls gives you the ability to identify the root cause and remove product across all locations simultaneously.
Establish a Food Recall Communications Team
The first step to creating an effective food recall communication plan is to establish a team. Assigning roles and tasks is crucial for fluid execution when the stress of a recall elevates the need to act quickly. A dedicated recall team is instrumental in ensuring the success of any food recall. While the size of the recall team will vary according to company size and the resources available, it is important to assign communications to the appropriate personnel. A recall team should include the following key persons:
- Recall communication coordinator - to oversee all activities relating to the recall and management of other team members
- Quality assurance manager - to identify the root causes and issues that led to the recall; The QA manager will communicate what items at the company have been affected
- Supply chain representative – to track and trace all potential suppliers needing notification of the recall
- Communications expert - to handle messaging for public relations (press releases and media statements).
- Customer representatives - to communicate with consumers
- Marketing representative - to handle all brand messaging across digital platforms
Each individual on the recall communication team should know what information should be communicated. The messaging must be accurate and consistent across all channels. When the QA team is conducting a mock recall, the communications team should perform the exercise as well.
Create a food recall communication template in advance to standardize communications across your supply chain, and monitor response messaging before a withdrawal or recall is needed. In advance of a recall or withdrawal event, assign who communicates for the company and what channels will be used. According to FSMA, a recall plan must detail procedures to notify suppliers, buyers, and the public.
Food Recall Communication Doesn’t End When The Recall Is Over
Having a food recall communication team in place means you have the proper people designated to keep your brand message consistent. The next step to standardizing the food recall communication process is to establish who to communicate with, what to include, the timing of communication, and incident updates.
Once a recall has been set in motion, the communications team will have access to the specific guidelines recommended by the leading federal agency. This information will include what type of foodborne illness or associated symptoms, which media channels to notify, and what actions are being implemented. Federal agencies heading up a recall will provide the proper language to use to avoid conflicting information.
The next step is to understand the scope of the recall in order to implement communications to the proper channels. Start by understanding how far the risk has spread. Who you communicate with during a food recall can include suppliers, federal regulatory agencies, health agencies, employees, consumers, or the local community and media.
Once you have established what you need to communicate and who the message must reach, rely on the food recall communication template suggested above to enable you to fill in the information and approve the messaging to be communicated. The template guarantees you will not leave out essential information when the timing is critical. Notifying stakeholders should not be delayed once all the information is collected, verified, and approved.
Since recalls are a public issue and information spreads rapidly, keep communication open throughout the procedure. In this day of quick access to breaking news, recalls often make headlines leading to loss of consumer trust. By updating communications and answering concerns in a transparent way, you can maintain confidence and let consumers know you are doing everything possible to guarantee the safety and quality of the recalled products.
One way to keep up the communications is to establish a webpage with ongoing updates and the actions being taken to resolve the issue. Setting up a webpage for consumers to get information directly from you during a recall demonstrates a commitment to doing what is best for public health. Recalls and product withdrawal can take days or months, so committing to honest communication and sharing the corrective measures being implemented will require an ongoing effort.
Food recall communications can build customer loyalty and minimize the damage to food brands.
Recall-ready Communications When You Need Them Most
If your product is implicated in an outbreak, be open and transparent. Standardized food recall communications will ensure you say the right thing at the right time. Be sure to keep the communication lines open at all times and be ready to respond to consumer concerns. Communicate with both regulatory bodies and consumers on the steps you are taking to address the problem.
FoodLogiQ provides software solutions that help you take proactive food safety measures so you can respond quickly. With FoodLogiQ Connect's Recall + Response, you can initiate a withdrawal or recall while simultaneously communicating via phone, email, or text. Your communication will automatically escalate if no action is taken within a customized time frame.
To learn more about preparing for future recalls, download Recall Readiness: Lessons Learned & A Look Ahead.