Unfortunately, a product recall or contamination event cannot be completely avoided. Taking the time to develop the best protocols and effectively implementing these strategies can certainly decrease the odds, yet some factors—like human error—just seem to happen.

For this reason, product recall planning must take a well-rounded approach. First, one that looks at the best means to avoid the odds and secondly, one that outlines how to approach an investigation or product complaints. Finally, what happens after you decide to recall or are forced to recall a product? This latter step can be the most complicated as well as the most valuable in turns of how you execute. Having a well thought-out plan will help the effectiveness of your execution when the pressure is on. In fact, some countries define notification time by law from the time an issue is discovered. This can definitely add to the pressure and highlights the importance of being prepared.

Steps to follow

  1. Notify authorities.  How do you notify the authorities if you determine a recall is needed? Do you phone them or is there an official form you must submit? If so, where do you find a form or phone number?
  2. Notify stakeholders.  Identify all the company stakeholders, develop the appropriate recall notices and best channels for communication, including social media, PR media, email, general mail, and/or website. Preplan the strategy and develop recall notice templates in advance.

  3. Stop product sales.  One of the biggest challenges in a product recall, yet rarely mentioned in recall plans, is how to ensure the products are removed from stores or distribution facilities. Obviously, the protocol will depend on the types of outlets selling the product. If sold by large retailers, the process should be efficient. They are prepared to remove products from store shelves and block bar codes to prevent further sales. Even if the batch code can be identified, the retailer will most likely remove all of the product from the shelves and not just the batch affected.

    On the other hand, if a product is sold through distributors, agents, importers or independent retailers, the process can be more challenging. If a product is sold through a wholesaler, it’s likely that they will know whom the product is sold through, but unlikely to know at a batch level. The challenge is getting the recall message to the wholesalers’ customers and their customers. In most cases, the wholesaler will need to handle the email communications which can have a pretty low success rate.
  4. Contacting consumers.  Large retailers can use loyalty card profiles to contact consumers who have bought the affected product, which has proven to be a reliable channel. The company’s social media page can also be a key tool used to spread the message. Newspaper alerts are rarely used these days. In larger, more dangerous recalls, a senior executive from the company may choose to do news interviews.

    Crisis communication is a huge topic on its own and worth using a consulting service, such as RQA, to plan an effective outreach with the media and with major stakeholders. Crisis support can greatly benefit brand rehabilitation—to rebuild trust and improve the overall handling of the event.
  5. Recall time frame.  How much effort should be placed on complete product removal? This will depend on a number of factors, including the risk, danger to the consumer, shelf life of the product and where it is in the supply chain. If a food product is highly dangerous, but has a short shelf life of only a few days, there will be intense pressure to get the message far and wide. While the product might have a short shelf life, people might freeze the product and add to the danger and need to extend the recall efforts. In most cases, consumer products have longer shelf lives and are not used right away by consumers. For this reason, recalls can take several months or even years, depending on the units affected and the complexity of the return or fix.

    RQA has been involved in cases where repeated recall campaigns were needed based on the safety risk being high and a low return rate.
  6. Warehousing and destruction.  In many cases, existing warehouse space is not sufficient or appropriate to store the recalled products. If current space can be utilized, sorting “good batches” from the “bad batches” will enable a company to reduce the financial impact by restocking the supply chain.

    If products have to be destroyed, the company needs to consider what is the cause of the defect. Proper assessment with a certified destruction agency may be contracted to complete this initiative. If a recall plan exists, check to see if contact information is included for both warehousing and destruction companies. Keep in mind, if a product is supplied globally, certain destruction facilities may not be available in every country.

    Crisis support can be beneficial during this process, including accompanying truck-loads of recalled products from warehouses to destruction facilities to witness and video record the destruction process. This service can assure there are no diversions or theft during transportation and that the product does not make its way back into the supply chain.

Assuring the product recall is handled successfully

Many issues can arise during an actual recall, such as making decisions without adequate information, communication issues, logistical challenges and the overall stress to the recall team and the business.

Some of the biggest recalls were quickly forgotten by consumers—or maybe never reached the public. Those that still stick in people’s minds are those recalls that didn’t go according to plan or maybe never even had a comprehensive recall plan to avoid the bumps.

Be prepared. Develop a comprehensive recall plan to give the recall team the skills, training and guidance needed when a recall occurs. Planning will be well worth the effort.

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Product Recall—What Happens After You Decide to Recall”, RQA Group, (pdf)

Disclaimer: Berkley Global Product Recall is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.