Be Food Safety Recall-Ready [Opinion]

Rosemary Gordon
Rosemary Gordon

A recall of mung bean sprouts and soybean sprouts occurred recently and, thankfully, no one got sick. According to FDA, the contamination was discovered through surveillance and monitoring. The products were distributed to retail stores in Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Thanks to the Virginia Rapid Response Team, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and testing by the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services the presence of Listeria monocytogenes was revealed in the products.

That wasn’t the same outcome a few years ago when Listeria-tainted cantaloupe sickened people in 28 states. Thirty-three people died from eating the contaminated melons from Jensen Farms in Colorado.

Following the incident, many consumers backed off the product for a while, negatively impacting cantaloupe growers. No grower ever wants his produce to make people sick; however, the world we live in is not perfect. We know that in spite of the protocols in place, recalls occur, and an entire commodity can be impacted as a result.

If you are faced with a recall, do you know what to do? Amy Philpott, a senior director with Watson Green LLC — a food and agriculture policy and public affairs company — spoke with one of my colleagues at a Florida field day and pointed out the importance of being prepared for a recall and knowing the right questions to ask if FDA ever comes calling.

In the event that FDA contacts your farm regarding a positive test result, Philpott says someone at the farm should be designated to handle the call. That person needs to know the questions to ask, such as what is the product type, packaging,
and brand? How was the problem detected, and why does FDA think the problem originated on your farm?

In addition, she says to ask about “reported or linked illness,” adding that there is a distinct difference between the two. Philpott also says to remem-ber the importance of effective communication and make sure you are keeping people such as FDA’s recall coordinator, customers, health officials, media, employees, and consumers up to speed on what is unfolding during the investigation. (To read Philpott’s pointers on food safety recalls, go to http://bit.ly/1K0mk4N.)

It is a complicated situation to navigate, but if a crisis like this ever comes your way — and I truly hope it doesn’t — make sure you are prepared. You never want anyone to get sick, but you do want to keep your reputation intact. How you handle a recall will shape your future and possibly the future of other growers, too.

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