- Publix recalled 29 beef products last week over concerns about E. coli contamination. According to Meat + Poultry, the beef products were purchased by consumers between June 25 and July 31 in 24 Florida counties.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service identified 18 case patients. The source of the illness has not been determined.
- “Food safety is our top priority. We have been working closely with various federal agencies as we share the common goal of maintaining food safety and public health,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in a statement.
Publix isn't the only company navigating a food safety incident. There have been a number of recalls recently, impacting brands from Kellogg to Hy-Vee. Such occurrences not only threaten consumer safety, but also cause a major dent to the bottom line and can significantly damage a company's reputation as well.
The average cost of a recall can be as much as $10 million if brand damage and lost sales are figured in, according to a 2011 study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association. SpartanNash experienced $2.9 million in losses due to a voluntary recall in this year's second quarter.
Publix is taking the necessary steps to rectify this situation and the public is typically quick to forgive. And, though they will likely suffer in the near term, beef sales will recover. Americans’ appetites for beef are strong despite a growing number of those who identify as vegetarian/vegan.
Still, as these risks persist – and grow as the industry itself continues to grow – it is more critical than ever for grocers to proactively work with (and monitor) suppliers and to ensure beef suppliers are committed to production best practices. There is also an abundance of new Food Safety and Inspection technologies that are available that can significantly improvement meat safety, and grocers should favor suppliers leveraging these applications.
Training also continues to be critical at the store-level employee and manager level. The most common way for contamination to spread is by in-store workers who incorrectly sanitize their hands, utensils or equipment as they handle food, according to Progressive Grocer. Well-trained managers at the store level can help keep standards in place. For bigger grocery chains, equipment manufacturers at larger grocery chains can provide on-site training, as well as training videos or YouTube links. Other helpful tips include placing reminders, cleaning schedules, checklists and instructions posted near equipment.
Grocers should be copiously transparent about these educational efforts to alleviate potential consumer anxiety and quickly restore trust. These companies may not be able to control every potential food safety violation, but consumers deserve to know that they're at least trying.