WASHINGTON — As the industry tries to improve the product recall system in the face of the growing number of recalls, food retailers and manufacturers at recent conferences pointed to the weaknesses that continue to undermine the system.
John Kolenski, director of food safety and regulatory compliance for Kroger, said that medium and small suppliers are not as forthcoming as most large manufacturers in communicating product recalls directly to the Cincinnati-based retailer.
“When it comes down to medium and small companies that may have never had a recall before, we're going to learn about it through the press sometimes,” said Kolenski, speaking at the Global Food Safety Conference here this month. “That slows the process down.” The conference was sponsored by the Consumer Goods Forum, Paris.
Kolenski also questioned whether small manufacturers will participate in the Rapid Recall Exchange, the new online portal developed by the Food Marketing Institute and GS1 US to facilitate the dissemination of recall information from manufacturers to retailers; Kroger is a subscriber to the exchange. “[The exchange] is growing, but the same small manufacturers that don't notify us today probably won't subscribe to the service,” he said.
As of last week, the Rapid Recall Exchange comprised 144 subscribers, made up of 83 “receivers” (retailers and wholesalers) and 61 “initiators” (manufacturers and suppliers). “We would like to get more midsized and small manufacturers to subscribe,” Amy Fanale, senior director, customer marketing, GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., told SN following a panel discussion on recall execution on Feb. 1 at the Supply Chain Conference in Phoenix. The conference was sponsored by the FMI-GMA Trading Partner Alliance.
Earlier, during the panel discussion, Fanale noted that GS1 US “is in discussions with suppliers that have yet to join the exchange.” GS1 US is also “working with retailers to drive adoption by suppliers,” she said. On the retailer/wholesaler side, membership in the exchange already represents 85% of all-commodity volume (ACV) in the U.S., she said.
Rapid Recall Exchange is currently not electronically linked to the Food and Drug Administration, which manufacturers must notify within 24 hours of discovering a recall. GS1 US is working on developing an “electronic interface” that would allow manufacturers to send the FDA a case number for a recall, said Fanale.
In another area of concern, Kolenski said that Kroger sometimes fails to receive information on the particular warehouse in its distribution chain that received a recalled product. “Our warehousing system is set up so that this warehouse will distribute these products only to these stores,” he said. “If we don't know the warehouses the product went to, we can't initiate a recall.”
Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, is also trying to plug the gaps in its recall communications with the independent stores it serves, said Craig McPhee, executive director of distribution for Associated Food Stores, who spoke at the Supply Chain Conference panel discussion. Over the past 18 months, the grocery cooperative has established “direct accountability” for communicating product recall alerts, for individuals at the wholesaler who send out alerts and also for individuals at independent retail stores who receive them, he said.
“We've closed the communications loop by better defining accountability at the distribution and retail points,” said McPhee. Recall messages are sent via Associated's StoreLink Web page, via email, and — over the past year — via text messages.
Manufacturers at the conferences also pointed out weak links in the recall communications process. For example, Kellogg Co. has been able to reach “second tier” retail customers “whom we didn't know existed” only after using the Rapid Recall Exchange, said Cathy LeRoux, director, incident management, customer and consumer communications, Kellogg, Battle Creek, Mich., who participated in the Supply Chain Conference panel.
At the Global Food Safety Conference, Susan Teller, associate director of logistics operations, Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., pointed to recall issues with some distributors who receive Kraft products and deliver them to stores. “In a recall, their role is to say where they sent it, but not all distributors are able to do that,” she said. “We're working on making sure they are able to.”