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With two major recalls of juice brands in the last week, global head of food and beverage at ABB Tatjana Milenovic looks at what companies can do to mitigate the risk of recall.

 In late April, Juicy Isle recalled its apple juice range from its Pure Tassie Organic juices brand after elevated levels of mycotoxin patulin was found. It has since recalled the entire brand nationally as a precautionary measure.

Juicy Isle said there was no formal Food Safety Standard or prescribed testing regime for patulin levels in Australia, despite there being one internationally. “Juice with elevated levels of patulin can pose a health risk through repeated consumption,” it said.

“We will vastly expand our investigation and testing regime to provide certainty to our customers that PURE TASSIE juice does not have elevated levels of patulin,” said Paul Mealor, Juicy Isle CEO. “This news has hit us hard. We see our customers as family, and we will ensure they can drink our organic juice safely and confidently.

“The world is going through many ‘never look back’ moments, and this is another one for us,” said Mealor. “At Juicy Isle, we are taking a strong stance and a leading position in the Australian market in food safety for the welfare of our loyal customers. We have already adopted new and rigorous testing of all apple juice production beyond current Australian industry standards.

On 15 May, ALDI Stores recalled the product PICK'D Cloudy Apple Juice 2L, which was on sale in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, ACT and NSW.

 

Global head of food and beverage at ABB Tatjana Milenovic said the most startling figures from the food industry are those that hint at the major financial burden of product recalls.

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the estimated average cost for a food recall is $10 million (AU$16 million) — and that is only the direct costs to the company, such as the retrieval and disposal of the tainted product. Factoring in the indirect costs, such as lawsuits, sales losses and damaged reputation, drives that cost even higher.

Food packaging is advancing in many ways, with its principle roles being to protect food products from outside influences and to provide consumers with ingredient and nutritional information — making it a critical component in the overall safety process. However, with food supply chains spanning over large distances and through multiple intermediaries, contamination and mislabeling risks at the packaging stage are often overlooked and emphasis on food safety usually lies in the preparation of the food itself.

In fact, statistics from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) show that, between 2010 and 2019, there were 707 product recalls across the region. The statistics identified that the biggest drivers of recalls resulted from operational mistakes, such as undeclared allergens, microbial contamination and foreign matter.

The risk of recalls

While most food recalls are voluntary, it is usually in the best interest of a food facility to fully cooperate and initiate a recall when requested. Federal and legal agencies will take quicker and more decisive action when a product poses a significant risk to human health if a manufacturer or distributor is unwilling to launch a voluntary recall, or if the agency decided that the company’s voluntary action is ineffective.

In 2015, Australian frozen food supplier, Patties, was forced to recall frozen berries after a Hepatitis A contamination. Patties had to dispose of AUS$3.8 million worth of berries held in storage and had to pay AUS$41,389 in compensation to customers who became ill after consuming the berries.

Elsewhere, New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra had to recall its whey products from seven countries in 2013 after suspected botulism-causing bacteria was detected during safety tests. Although no one became unwell from the products, Fonterra paid NZ$183 million to French multinational food-products corporation, Danone, as a result of recall costs suffered by the company.

Food fraud

Food fraud describes any product that is deliberately mislabeled, misrepresented, diluted or manipulated. Unsurprisingly, profit is the main motivator behind this crime — with everyday products like honey, alcohol, milk and coffee being the most commonly counterfeited goods. Counterfeit beverages often contain cheap substitutes for alcohol, including dangerous chemicals used in cleaning fluids and methanol, which is usually used in antifreeze.

Advancements in software are now enabling manufacturers to monitor supply chains digitally, allowing them to easily identify areas where traceability could be improved. Using intelligent software, such as ABB’S Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) software, a food manufacturer can view real-time production data from their suppliers. By adding the supplier’s data to their own, the manufacturer can easily identify if the wrong batch of ingredients has been dispatched, before they are used in manufacturing.

Food manufacturers must have faith in their own traceability efforts and reduce the likelihood of food fraud occurring. However, outside of the factory walls, manufacturers are required to hand this responsibility over to the wider supply chain.

To combat any weaknesses or risks of food fraud, manufacturers should only select suppliers that they trust will consistently adhere to traceability requirements. By identifying every commodity, manufacturers can map their material supply chain inputs across all their procurement categories, and, ideally, trace every single product back to its origin.

Mislabeling

Properly declaring allergens in products is another crucial process to avert product recall. Once a company has identified the potential allergens, and processed products according to its hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) system, it is responsible for ensuring the product is adequately packaged, labelled and stored. These procedures should include the accurate identification of all potential allergens.

Considering that someone goes to the hospital for a food allergy reaction every three minutes, it is troubling that undeclared allergens and ingredients are one of the main drivers behind product recalls. FSANZ found that 40 per cent of recalls between 2010 and 2019 were caused by undeclared allergens.

Mislabeling can be easily controlled by an effective quality assurance department — it is essential to control labels at all parts of the process. Another good way to safeguard against mislabel recalls is to use automated vision inspection systems for labelling operations. Vision inspection systems capture 100 per cent of the product defects they are programmed to detect, eliminating the potential of mislabeled products reaching the consumer.

 The effects of recalls can be far-reaching, affecting everything from consumer health to brand confidence. With the increase in automation sophistication to boost productivity and profit margins, it is becoming more achievable to have a clear, set process in place throughout the whole production cycle.

However, even though manufacturers have manual and automated systems in place to check labelling and packaging, it isn’t 100 per cent fool-proof. It is up to the manufacturer to make sure that their product is up to standard, to make profit and build reliable brands for customers.

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