How to build a comprehensive plan for product recalls and brand protection

Learn how to create an effective product recall plan to protect your brand while discovering strategies and systems for efficient recall management.


Global food supply chains are more complex and interdependent than ever. As consumers, we all benefit from having more choices, lower prices, and year-round availability of many food items that were once only seasonal. Unfortunately, this added complexity also increases risk and is a catalyst for food safety failure. The more moving pieces you add to the puzzle, the more things can go wrong somewhere down the line. 

Grocery stores, restaurants, and food manufacturers unprepared for a food item withdrawal or recall notice jeopardize their reputation, facing significant economic and social consequences. But, knowing how to perform an effective food recall or product withdrawal—through quick action and effective communication—is the best way to limit your company’s exposure and mitigate the damage to your reputation and bottom line. 

So, how do you set up a recall management plan and prepare your team to ensure that your food recall process is executed quickly, effectively, and accurately? These days, it comes down to having a product recall strategy and a powerful recall management system. 

But what does that look like? Let’s find out. 


Food recalls are on the rise and significantly impacting consumer trust

Social media and 24-hour news cycles mean quality, food safety, and trust are at the forefront of customers’ minds. These concerns have only been elevated over the past several years and have become not just a regional issue but a global problem—all of which affect customer trust. 

Headlines like these are clickbait for modern consumers, and the impact can be detrimental to brands:

Despite a manufacturer or producer's best safety control efforts, sometimes unsafe products make it to market. These potentially harmful products could contain pathogens, foreign objects, improper labeling, undeclared allergens, or fail to meet regulatory requirements.

The bottom line is that recalls are an unavoidable element of business, striking at any time and rapidly evolving—and when one occurs, every minute counts. You must have a well-designed recall plan and process that allows products to be removed from the market as quickly and efficiently as possible, protecting you from liability, reputational harm, and significant economic loss. 



Nominate a predetermined recall management team

The process of implementing a new recall management program may feel overwhelming, but it won’t be if you create a solid support system. To start, you must identify a group of individuals with assigned roles and responsibilities as part of your recall management team.

This group will be headed by a recall coordinator who will oversee the team’s efforts to:

  • Communicate with internal stakeholders, supply chain partners, and “direct consignees” (retail locations and the public in some cases); be sure to include legal, public relations, and marketing
  • Document processes and procedures
  • Decide how the recall or withdrawal will be made
  • Document decisions and actions taken
  • Track the identification and removal of food product

The team should also be responsible for conducting mock recalls (more on that later), ensuring the proper procedures are in order, and coordinating actual responses. To do this properly, with speed and accuracy, your hand-picked team requires a food recall management software system with comprehensive automated record keeping. During a recall, the system can act as the central information hub. Automated record keeping and reporting can be used for debriefs with c-suites or audit checks. 


What does a food recall process include? 

The goal of an effective recall plan is to quickly identify each impacted product, know where it is in the supply chain, and know who to contact so that they can remove it. To do this, there are several steps your team must take the moment a recall alert occurs. Generally speaking, they are:

  • Investigation – Identify and document the source or cause of the flawed food product or ingredient. Evaluating and documenting the potential/actual health hazards is also essential.

  • Initial actions – Gather your recall team for additional analysis and a decision on whether to take action. If recalling, consider the depth of the recall (how widespread, which channels) and which stakeholders, partners, customers, and regulatory agencies will need to be notified.

  • Identification – Determine all food products that are impacted and require recall. This should include product name(s), size(s), lot number(s), code(s), expiration dates, and labels and photos if possible.

  • Recall action – Put a hold on impacted products within your control and create a distribution list for potentially affected parties.

  • Notification – Alert your distributors, locations, customers, and the press and public (when applicable) and inform them how to proceed. Notifications may include letters, emails, or even text messages. These all have permanent records. When communicating by telephone, the FDA recommends that the recalling organization document phone communications “appropriately.”

  • Removal - Your team will need to determine what to do with recalled food products. In many cases, perishable food products will be destroyed. In other cases, products may need to be returned. When sending notifications, your instructions must be clear on identifying the products, what action they are to take, and how to communicate back with the recalling firm.

  • Root cause analysis (RCA) and corrective action – Despite best efforts for preventative measures, when issues arise, it is critical to address the problem that caused the recall. Performing a root cause analysis (RCA) will allow your team to identify the what and how behind the issue's appearance and what corrective action is required to prevent its reoccurrence. 


The benefits of applying automation and software designed for managing food recalls

While many brands try to manage this process manually, there are a great number of benefits to applying technology specifically designed to automate these processes:


Automated processing and monitoring of product complaints 

Manually dealing with product complaints and monitoring trends is time-consuming and puts you in a reactionary mode. Systems designed to manage and monitor complaints can act as an “early warning system” for impending issues. Leveraging technology to process complaints, monitor trends, and provide safety alerts for elevated trends can prompt your team to take early investigative action and remove products before the risk becomes wider. 


Shorten the time it takes to create a distribution list and get the word out

Taking action immediately is critical if you have hazardous products in your supply chain. Compiling a list of contacts can be one of the most time-consuming tasks when time is of the essence. Software designed for food recall management that integrates with your supply chain data sources can make this job much more manageable. From there, your recall management system can automatically and instantly reach out via email, phone, and text. Issue withdrawal or recall notices and escalate to field management to guarantee a rapid response.  


Ensure action is being taken 

Once notifications have been sent out, you must get responses from every party and know how much product has been recovered. Doing this with email and manually tallying up the results isn’t efficient. The software can track responses and provide real-time reporting to measure your recall's completeness. This also creates more transparency and actionable information to manage the recall process as it unfolds.   


Test your food recall readiness with mock recalls

Before a recall occurs, you and the key members of your supply chain should be familiar with and practice recall procedures. So, when the alarms ring, they’re prepared to move swiftly and effectively. To ensure your preparedness, you must perform regular mock recall tests to see what works and what doesn’t and then make the necessary adjustments. Software designed for food recalls can provide much-needed mock recall functionality to ensure your team and supply chain are ready for the real thing when needed.

Taking the crisis out of crisis management

Ensuring the quality, consistency, and safety of food is no easy job. Products and supply chains are far more complex than ever, and risks are prevalent. When issues arise, decisive and swift action is critical to the safety of your customers and your brand’s reputation. In today’s age of digitalization, no food manufacturer or retail food service company should be without an automated product recall strategy and a powerful recall management system. 

RecallsX1 covers all stages of a recall event and all the features your crisis management team needs to manage the recall process. Perform investigations, communicate with your supply chain and locations, and monitor real-time food recalls—everything you need in one place, including automated record keeping.


Reach out to us today; one of our experts can show you how to make performing recalls much easier.