Whether you’re a plant manager, quality control manager, operations manager or food safety supervisor, a recall is your greatest fear. Food recalls affect everyone from corporate management to the employees working on the production line — and it takes a team effort to prevent them.

Why is it so vital for a food plant to prevent a recall and/or lawsuit? For starters, no one wants to cause an injury or safety concern for the consumers eating your product.

You also want to protect your company’s reputation. If consumers lose trust in the integrity of your product, it can take years to win them back, if they come back at all.

And with the average cost of a product recall in the $10 million range, if your job is to minimize costs, a recall is an expense you cannot afford to assume.

How can your food plant prevent a recall or lawsuit?

It takes a team effort and a preventative mindset. When everyone involved in food production takes ownership of safety, you’re more likely to spot problem areas and develop solutions. Here are nine ways that your food plant can prevent costly recalls and lawsuits.

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Table of Contents

Prioritize Plant Infrastructure, and Fight for Improvements


Dollar for dollar, preventive spending on infrastructure will always be more cost- effective than issuing recalls. Proper plant infrastructure mitigates environmental risks. Antiquated cast drains and FRP walls will be hazardous to your production space until they’re replaced. If you see the need for infrastructural improvements, communicate this to decision makers and fight for those improvements. 

Investing in a proper CIP system or floor coating now can save you the cost of a recall later. In addition to the expense of a product recall, you’ll also have to deal with the damage to your brand — an expense that’s nearly impossible to calculate. 


Use Detection Methods that You Can Trust


What level of detection can your in-plant system provide? If you find that a machine part on your line is damaged or missing, you don’t want to guess whether or not a piece of it fell into your product, you want to know.

You may want to rely on a third party for precise detection of a foreign contaminant. If your product’s traceability is up to snuff, then you can trust detection experts to zero in on the precise lot where you suspect contamination.

Finding and extracting a contaminant — whether it’s through a self audit or a third party inspection service — offers assurance that the rest of your product is safe and sellable. This is significantly more cost- effective than scrapping a batch of product, and exponentially more cost-effective than issuing a recall.


Maintain Product Traceability and Comprehensive Reporting


Whether you’re a small food production operation or a nationally distributed brand, traceability is key to preventing a recall. If you have reason to suspect that a foreign contaminant has entered your food supply, you need to have a precise way to determine when the contamination happened, and where in your production chain it is currently located.

Make sure you are keeping accurate records that contain only pertinent information. If record keeping becomes a to-do list item, employees will get complacent. If you have a real-time data recording system in place, you can catch an error and prevent it from taking up more of your time and effort — especially if it’s going to result in an unsellable product anyway.


Validate Your Process Through Self Auditing


Another excellent preventive method for staying in front of recalls is to put your system to the test on your own time. Process validation is part of your HACCP plan for a reason. Test your own detection methods, or have a third party validate them to ensure your system is catching potential contaminants. When you’re able to identify weak points in your food safety system, you can make adjustments before those weak points produce problems.

How you engage, complete and follow through with your monthly internal audit says a lot about your culture and engagement levels within your facility. What do your internal audit results say about your plant?


Eliminate “Run-to-Failure” from Your Maintenance Program


Worn-down equipment accounts for many of the foreign contaminant cases you’ll encounter. If you have a machine that’s old and in need of repairs, it’s more likely that a bolt will fall out or a piece will break. Then you’ve got a piece of metal or plastic somewhere in your product.

Instead of waiting to catch a problem, eliminate “run-to-failure” from your maintenance program. You don’t want to be the root cause of your own problem. Proper equipment maintenance is an easy preventive step that is entirely within your control. That’s why you should do everything in your power to ensure your plant is investing its capital wisely.


Emphasize the Importance of Food Safety During Employee Training


It’s easy enough to simply tell a new employee what to do. But giving a new employee a list of tasks doesn’t get them engaged with your company’s culture, nor does it help them understand the “why” behind the tasks they’re doing. 

That’s where new-employee orientations come into play. These events present an excellent opportunity to emphasize the importance of food safety. 

Personalize the issue for them. Don’t just tell your employees how to practice food safety. Explain to them why food safety is so important. When production employees feel a sense of ownership over the product they create, they’re more likely to take a concept like food safety personally.


Monitor Your Allergen Program Internally and Externally


There are two main reasons that so many food recalls involve allergens: Either because the allergens are unintentionally present, or the food was mislabeled. An allergen-related recall is a clear sign that your operation lacks organization and attention to detail.

Avoid this pitfall internally by making your protocols simple to execute and difficult to deviate from. Color coding, labeling, cleaning and segregation are all part of allergen management.

You can also manage this risk by looking externally. Are you auditing your suppliers? Make sure that your supplier testing is more than just a checklist. Be persistent about receiving full chemical and biological analyses for each lot of product you’re using. Don’t let a single supplier put your otherwise-thorough HACCP plan at risk.


Look for Ways to Continuously Improve Your Process


Continuous improvement ensures quality, ways that you can improve your process of course. It also helps ensure consistency via preventive maintenance, training, in your product. And what better way to be documentation and detection. Make this a consistent than to have consistently safe team effort that involves the quality, safety products? and operations departments.

You should already have an HACCP plan and a list of “Good Manufacturing Practices” in place. You know how to prevent food safety issues on paper, but there are practical concerns that often arise during the flow of production.

One area that’s easy to overlook is your workflow. Are you placing more stress on equipment than it can handle? Are you allowing employees adequate time to thoroughly clean production equipment between line changes?

Don’t let the discovery of a foreign contaminant be the reason you improve your food safety procedures. Look for


If Necessary, Recall, Rather than Face a Lawsuit


It can be difficult to make the decision to recall a product. Product recalls present a considerable expense that no one wants to swallow. However, a recall is better than a lawsuit. At the end of the day, you have a responsibility to the people who consume your product, as well as to your company’s overall reputation.

Deciding to recall will be a group decision that takes careful thought. In some cases it’s the only way to proceed. Food should never harm the people who consume it, and if you have the ability to prevent that from happening, you should.