‘Potential’ presence of Salmonella triggers recall

This week, Mars has acted to implement a 'precautionary' recall over seven product categories; Galaxy Milky bars, Galaxy Counters, Galaxy Minstrels and Maltesers Teasers.

Last year, February 2016, Mars recalled a number of products from up to 55 countries after a piece of plastic was found in one of their products.

The current recall was reportedly due to routine testing detecting the 'potential' presence of salmonella from the ingredients used to make the chocolate.

The vast scale of some of these recalls underlines the importance of having robust crisis management and responsiveness systems to either ring-fence or withdrawal and recall affected product. Also to have a key decision-making team available to carry out investigation and risk assessment in order to decide whether the product is in breach of ‘Food Safety Requirements’ under Food Safety Regulation 178/2002 and what legal as well as commercial responsibilities this entails. If possible legal advice will ensure privilege or confidentiality attaches and will provide a clear framework of what these obligations are.

Mars has indicated the ‘best interests of our consumers are at heart’ and this should be central to any crisis response. Lessons have clearly been learned from the Cadburys 2006/7 salmonella contamination that resulted in 42 people becoming ill and 3 having to receive hospital treatment. Cadbury pleaded guilty to offences that included putting unsafe food on the market and failing to immediately notify relevant authorities. They were fined £1 million and ordered to pay £152,000 costs but spent an additional £20m+ changing procedures in the aftermath of the incident. Although Cadburys found salmonella in its products between January and March 2006, they did not recall products until 23 June because levels of contamination were lower than the standard they assessed to be safe. Prior to 2003, the company had a zero tolerance policy to salmonella in products. This changed to allow a low level of presence as the critical limit; however, this did not take into account the particular way that the pathogen could survive in chocolate.

It is essential that companies in the food sector ensure that crisis management plans and procedures are checked, tested and kept up to date and that they comply with their legal obligations. If product liability and withdrawal/recall insurance is in place there should be clarity as to exactly what scenarios are covered and for this to be in the best commercial and practical interests of the company.

Whilst what is proportionate will take into account costs, care should always be taken that consumer safety rather than cost is always prioritised.

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