Photo by Provisions on Flickr

On September 5th, the Greek yogurt maker Chobani issued a voluntary recall of certain packages of yogurt produced in an Idaho facility, out of concern that they were contaminated with mold. The recall was issued nearly a week after customers complained of illness and reported swollen or bloated containers.

Consumers posted photos and remarks about rotten-smelling yogurt and frothing containers on Chobani’s Facebook page, and also sent complaints to Food Safety News. Chobani deleted many of the complaints, but company officials eventually responded with this notice on the Chobani Facebook page: “While this type of mold is unlikely to have ill health effects, due to some claims of illness the company has decided to go from voluntarily withdrawing to voluntarily recalling the limited amount of potentially affected product.”

The voluntary withdrawal involved sending out notices to retail stores during the final week of August to remove containers of the potentially affected product. Chobani also advised consumers who purchased the product to discard it and contact the company’s Customer Loyalty Team. On September 5th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that “[T]he company has ceased the distribution of the product.”

With regards to the particular mold found in the yogurt, Chobani explained on its website that “[T]hrough extensive testing and expert consultation, we now know that the mold found in the products we voluntarily recalled this week is a species called Mucor circinelloides. Mucor circinelloides is not considered a foodborne pathogen.” Still, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, as of September 9th, the FDA “is reviewing 89 complaints from consumers who say they fell ill after eating the recalled Chobani Greek yogurt.”

Food recalls can prove extremely costly to companies. Removing product from store shelves, overhauling production facilities, and managing public relations are just a few of the time consuming, costly efforts involved. On top of these costs, brands worry about the long-term financial consequences of tarnished brand perceptions. According to Food Safety Magazine, “[T]he average cost of a recall to a food company is $10M in direct costs, in addition to brand damage and lost sales according to a joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.”

What, if anything, can be done to avoid recalls? It all starts at the plant. Food Safety Magazine goes on to note that, because the majority of recalls are caused by operational mistakes, “a commitment and adherence to meeting one of the highest global food safety standards recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) can be the best defense against food recalls.”

One of those standards involves comprehensive documentation—so if a recall becomes necessary, at least field teams will be fully informed of precisely which products to pull from the shelves. In the case of multiple plants, documentation, field data collection, and field team productivity are crucial. With perishable goods, brands are especially dependent on field data for retail operations reporting. The better the data collection and reporting mechanisms are, the faster a company can react to a potential recall threat, thus minimizing the effect on consumers.

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