Glancing at the current food recall list on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website can be a sobering and stomach churning exercise.
A smoothy fruit blend containing spinach and kale – recalled due to concerns over possible contamination with listeria. Caramel apples – recalled due to possible contamination with listeria. Apple slices processed by Scotian Gold – recalled due to possible contamination with listeria. Granny Smith and Gala varieties of apples packed by a California company and sold across Canada – recalled due to possible contamination with listeria. Unpasteurized apple cider – recalled due to possible E. coli contamination. Bagged potatoes recalled in Atlantic Canada – due to product tampering.
Food safety continues to be a hot button topic among consumers and Canadian fruit and vegetable producers need to be aware of not only the relative safety of what they’re producing on their own operations but also what is being imported into their local fruit or vegetable packing warehouse. The recent wide-reaching incident involving apples packed by
Bidart Brothers of Bakersfield, Calif., is a perfect example of this. Since the first recall notice involving caramel apples hit the U.S. news in early December 2014, 32 people have fallen ill due to listeria monocytogenes, three people have died and one woman has miscarried. One case involving the same strain of the infection has also been reported in Manitoba.
This is not the first time a food borne illness has wend its way through the North American population. And it probably won’t be the last. In light of this, Fruit & Vegetable Magazine has set aside a section of this issue to highlight some of the latest information on food safety, traceability and recalls for fruit and vegetable producers in Canada.
The key to a successful recall lies not just in the ability to recognize when something’s gone wrong and alert consumers, but to also know just how much product is affected and whether all of it is accounted for.
This makes the ability
to trace product critical, even for small operations, and knowing the systems put in place to track
According to head of the food technology program at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby, B.C. Gary Sandberg, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency already requires federally registered processors to have a recall strategy. Now, any plants that ships product to the U.S. will be required to be federally registered and have a strategy, too.
“[If] you’re exporting to the United States, you’re going to automatically now be a federally registered plant, which means you’re under the CFIA’s jurisdiction,” he explains.
While a HACCP protocol can identify risk points and incorporate a simple response process, a proper recall strategy can be far-reaching.
“It’s like doing a disaster planning exercise,” he says. “You definitely want to be able to move through the whole thing and ensure that you can track any product and be able to pull that product back into a centralized location and deal with it accordingly.”
Putting the recall protocol to the test doesn’t mean having to go into full disaster mode and shut the entire plant down. It can be as simple as trying to find out where in the process a particular lot of product is.
“You can do it [by] looking at a lot number and saying, ‘OK, can we actually find it?’ Then it becomes a paper-based thing.”
Sandberg served as quality assurance manager for T.J. Lipton in Richmond, B.C., prior to becoming an instructor at BCIT. He knows first-hand the difficulties of trying to reach people and also to track product.
One of the measures that Lipton had in place to define the massive amounts of product it was producing was segmenting the production into 90-minute segments. Stock was tagged with an alphanumeric code for each day and time. This allowed Lipton to hone in on a smaller run of product than if it could only identify a single day when the problem occurred.
Smaller processors or farms handling a large volume of fresh produce might find it difficult to track product from field to farm gate, but Sandberg says it’s possible to track produce by row or field and note which runs contribute to particular processing periods.
“If they’re coding their products with a date code on it and some sort of a lot number, and the shipping documents are maintained and you’re recording date numbers and quantities, your regular inventory control system should give you a lot of the information you want,” he says.
A mock recall can put these information systems to the test. Regular testing can highlight areas that require closer attention and may identify opportunities for improving the traceability of product.
“It becomes kind of like an insurance policy – if you’re able to identify, isolate and recover that product without having to get widespread into the trade, then it’s definitely going to be helpful even if there is litigation,” Sandberg says.
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