In the aftermath of widespread romaine lettuce, flour, and chicken-strip recalls in 2019, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund is calling for upgrades to food-safety regulation in the 2020 edition of its food safety report, “How Safe is Our Food?”
In most cases, regulations U.S. PIRG wants aren’t groundbreaking and are already on the industry’s radar. Take for example monitoring and testing of water used for irrigation of produce in order to prevent contamination. The FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety has taken science-based steps toward addressing the safety of agricultural water.
The organization also wants to improve traceability – something that has been on the food industry’s radar for a long time.
Remember the ultimate goal of activist groups: capitalize on consumer fears and concerns to increase membership, inspire grassroots activity, and raise money. You don’t have to look further than the bottom of the U.S. PIRG report’s landing page to see that.
Regardless of what you think of these organizations, their reports and news releases never fail to capture consumer and media attention. And their efforts often result in added costs and increased liability for food and consumer-product companies.
Here are two things that jump out at us this time around – both related to recall management:
- Retailer Disclosure. This one’s pretty simple. When a food product is recalled, U.S. PIRG wants that announcement to include a list of every retailer that carries that item. This doesn’t mean that the retailer will be required to take additional action, but it certainly will raise consumer concerns. That may be a good thing from a consumer safety perspective, but it could create some challenges for retailers if they’re not prepared for the attention and increased consumer inquiry.
- Consumer Notification. U.S. PIRG wants to require retailers to directly notify consumers about food recalls. This one is interesting to us because most major retailers already do this. They send consumers – typically those who are registered loyalty club members – direct notification of a recalled product they may have purchased. But there are also retailers who don’t have that capability, making compliance much more of a challenge.
With experience handling thousands of product safety and recall events, we have a unique perspective on the risks, challenges, and often over-looked opportunities associated with these types of reputational matters. These retailer disclosure and consumer notification recommendations from U.S. PIRG can actually be some of these opportunities if companies are prepared to embrace them.