- Pinnacle Foods has voluntarily recalled almost 25,000 cases of frozen Birds Eye Baby Sweet Peas because of potential listeria contamination. However, the company is not saying where the product went, even though it was distributed to retailers across 21 states, according to Food Safety News. The magazine reports that the recall was labeled as a “very limited quantity” and consequently wasn't worthy of public notification according to Pinnacle Foods and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- FDA policy is to post food recalls on its website only after the recalling company has gone public with the situation. “We are working with this firm in regard to their recall. However, it does not reach the threshold to require a public communication,” an FDA spokesman told Food Safety News. The news did not become public knowledge until retailers, wholesalers and the U.S. Defense Commissary Agency posted their own recall notices.
- The fact that this is a frozen product with a long shelf life — with best-by dates reportedly of July 5-6, 2019 — means there’s a good chance that some consumers may still have bags of the potentially contaminated product in their freezers.
Illness and death caused by food safety issues each year is devastating. The reputational and economic effects of food recalls also can be significant, and something companies must be diligent about. Thus it’s imperative that consumer brands, retailers and other links in the food supply chain remain proactive in order to keep consumers out of harm’s way when it comes to food safety. Getting in front and being transparent is the best way to gain — or regain — consumer trust.
According to the 2017 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study, a product recall due to contamination consistently ranks among the list of biggest risks to corporate reputation. A 2014 Harris Poll found that 55% of U.S. adults said that if a brand they usually buy has been recalled, they’d temporarily switch to another. But 16% said they’d never buy the recalled brand again, and 17% said they’d also avoid all other products and brands made by the same manufacturer.
Food companies could learn from how other manufacturers have responded to recalls — taking into account ways in which things were handled properly — or not.
For example, when Soylent learned of consumers suffering gastrointestinal distress after eating its meal replacement bars, the company stopped all sales of the bars and recalled products already on the market while they conducted their own internal investigation. No pathogens were ever discovered and complaints instead were believed to be food intolerance-related, with an algae protein ingredient the suspected culprit. Since the recall, Soylent has introduced new product innovations to create buzz around the company name and make its nutrient-packed formulas more palatable to the average consumer. Little fallout seems to have occurred, especially since the company is currently gaining retail distribution.
On the other hand, I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter suffered an E. coli contamination earlier this year, which was kept pretty much under the table. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not initially reveal which states were impacted by the outbreak and the company claimed it wasn't immediately notified of its connection to the disease. The FDA eventually named the supplier of the soy paste as the source of the contamination. Still, I.M. Healthy bore the brunt of consumer backlash because of the secrecy that shrouded much of the recall.
In Pinnacle’s case, the food maker has been anything but transparent and forthcoming with information. According to Food Safety News, the manufacturer’s website did not appear to have any information about the recall as of Wednesday evening. An email response to the magazine, however, read: “The health and safety of our consumers are our top priorities and, as such, Birds Eye Vegetables has voluntarily recalled a very limited quantity of Birds Eye Baby Sweet Peas at the retail level. While there have been no confirmed illnesses reported, we took this action after consultation and agreement with the FDA. The vast majority of the product in question has been removed from retail shelves and will be destroyed.”
Unfortunately, Pinnacle could have put itself in danger of financial damage or jeopardized its reputation from this recall and the way in which it was handled.