Is your crisis management and recall plan ‘tamper-proof’?

Cow & Gate and Tesco this month launched a voluntary recall of 15 varieties of baby food on a precautionary basis over concerns the products had been tampered with.

This comes a month after Tesco similarly had to take action after two sharp metal fragments were found in a jar of Heinz’s By Nature baby food range. The indication to date is that the tampering only affects products sold in Tesco stores.

This illustrates how important it is to ensure a food businesses crisis management and product liability plan equally can respond to the very different demands placed on it where there is a deliberate attack on the product and brand.

A deliberate contamination will be the intentional contamination of food by means of the deliberate adding of a harmful or poisonous substance to food products.

Precautionary measures will be necessary, based on an assessment of the vulnerability of the processing and supply chain to deliberate, rather than accidental, contamination; what protective measures can be put in place to reduce this?

Prevention of intentional contamination does not always require high technology or great expense.  Increased awareness of the problem and enhanced vigilance are among the effective measures that can be taken. Awareness can be heightened by auditing food safety management programmes.

Measures to consider would be:

  • Appropriate audit of supplies and suppliers to ensure secure processing;
  • Supervision of deliveries/processing, security cameras etc.;
  • Security such as sealed/locked product during transit/storage;
  • limiting access to processing area and product;
  • System for handling damaged goods;
  • Security to keep potential contaminants away from food preparation areas;
  • Identify all visitors and verify credentials;
  • Conduct background checks on staff;
  • Ensure rapid communication of food safety hazards;
  • Keep logs and office file documents and staff files up to date;
  • Random food inspections;
  • tamper-proof packaging.

The same necessity to ensure the safety of consumers by recalling or withdrawal of the product and notification will be paramount, as in any other food safety scenario.  

Food businesses and retailers should act swiftly in assessing and responding to information that provides a reasonable consideration a hazard can pose a food safety risk to consumers.

Additional measures where there is a threat of deliberate contamination would be to identify the threat and the opportunities where this may arise and who the food business should contact if there is suspicious activity or a threat at their operation.

Food businesses should ring-fence any product suspected to be contamination and investigate. The regulatory authority should be contacted and an emergency contact list including local enforcement and police should be kept up to date. Up-to-date points of contact, internally and externally, with the public health and law-enforcement authorities, in case an incident is suspected or detected should be maintained. Also an appropriate point of communication for customers and media handling.

Consideration of terms of insurance, business interruption plan, supply contracts and any amount of capped liability should be reviewed ahead of any crisis situation.

Finally, where there is criminal activity to have details of the relevant enforcement officers who can help investigate and ultimately protect the food and brand.

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