Once again, I’m penning a posting related to product contamination and recall, and again it involves the cascading supply chain effects of an incident of suspected forms of E.Coli contamination which can cause serious food borne illness.

The latest incident involves a voluntary recall of 420,000 pounds of beef products produced by JBS Swift Beef Company of Greeley Colorado.  According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release this recall was expanded because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in nine U.S. states. The beef products were produced back in April, and JBS Swift conducted the recall out of an abundance of caution.  As can sometimes happen with recalls involving food products, certain production also makes it way into other supply networks, namely private label branded products.  In this specific case, the CDC has acknowledged that meat may have been re-processed into ground beef and other products, making it difficult to trace actual identity markings for consumers. To no surprise, Smith’s Food and Drug Stores, a division of Kroger has also issued a similar recall warning involving its store brand and store-packaged beef products, including that processed into ground beef and other products.  If you plan on a barbeque this Fourth of July holiday, make sure you check the various web sites that identify the impacted products.

I’ve noticed from my various food industry news feeds that the industry has been reacting to a significant shift among retailers and wholesalers in offering more private branded products.  This shift has been a response to consumer trends in purchasing more affordable or value-based products.  I’m beginning to suspect that these same retailers may not quite understand the ramifications of supply chain disruption that can be brought on by a significant product recall. But alas, this may be the subject of a future post.

In the other ongoing incident, on June 19, Supply Chain Matters posted its first commentary on the voluntary recall involving Nestle Toll House cookie dough  which was also a suspected E.Coli contamination. To update readers on that incident, the CDC now reports that 72 people in 30 U.S. states have been associated with this outbreak. Of this number, 34 people have been hospitalized, and 10 have been diagnosed with a form of kidney disease. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA)  has now confirmed that it has found E.Coli 0157:H7 in an unopened sample of pre-packaged dough within Nestlé’s Danville Virginia plant.  .  Nestle USA has also acknowledged this finding and continues to cooperate with FDA officials to identify the root cause of this contamination.  In my view, Nestle was very wise to take the initiative to voluntarily recall these products.  In its press release, Nestle smartly outlines the timeline of its response, and attempts to insure its customers that other Toll House branded products are not involved. 

The latest article from the local Danville News indicates that the FDA had found no traces of the bacterium after  conducting exhaustive inspections of both the cookie dough production equipment and the workers.  The FDA also took samples of all the component ingredients and they have come back negative.  The investigation has apparently shifted upstream in the supply chain with a joint inspection of the flour supplier underway.

This cookie dough incident has been a concern to industry followers since E.Coli is usually traced to animal bacterium in cattle, and seems highly unusual in flour and dough products

Besides the obvious concerns we all have regarding the overall safety of our food products, these constantly occurring incidents present some interesting questions.  Which brand suffers the most, and which party bears the most responsibility when a disruption brought on by food contamination cascades itself through various supply chains? Whose reputation suffers the most?

 Share your thoughts.

 Bob Ferrari