Food Safety Supervisor Guide to Managing a Product Recall

This guide outlines the steps a food safety supervisor can take when a product recall is issued.
June 30, 2016
By Grace Smith

All Australian businesses that produce and sell food products, from wholesale suppliers and manufacturers to importers and food retailers, have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of consumers.

By equipping a food business with a Food Recall System, a Food Safety Supervisor helps a food business react swiftly and effectively to a product recall. To achieve this efficiency, the best option is to integrate a food recall system into the business’ Food Safety Plan.

What Is The Purpose Of A Product Recall System?

The purpose of a product recall system is to limit harm to customers from food that, somewhere along the supply chain, has been contaminated by:

  • Bacteria that may cause food poisoning
  • Chemicals
  • Foreign matter

A food recall system must:

  • Stop the distribution and sale of the unsafe food product as soon as possible
  • Alert the public and relevant authorities about the problem
  • Take steps to retrieve the unsafe food from the marketplace
  • Ensure disposal of the unsafe food

Which Businesses Need A Food Recall System?

Food retail and hospitality businesses

If you are a food retail or hospitality business, you do not need a recall system unless your business also operates as a wholesale supplier, manufacturer or importer. You can confirm which category you belong to by consulting this Food Safety Supervisor Industry Overview

Even if you run a food retail or hospitality business, you will still need to identify, store and dispose of recalled foods returned by customers (on behalf of your wholesale supplier, manufacturer or importer).

Your food business might also decide to retrieve a food product for reasons such as a packaging or labelling fault.

Wholesale suppliers, manufacturers and importers

If you are a food business involved in the wholesale supply, manufacture or importation of food, you must have a food recall system. As set out in Standard 3.2.2 Food Safety Practices and General Requirements, designing a food recall system involves:

  • Preparing a written document that outlines your recall system and the steps your business will take to ensure that recalled food can be recovered from all points in the supply chain
  • Complying with this recall system if you are alerted to a danger in the food you produce or sell

Instructions for Food Retail and Hospitality Businesses

Disposing of recalled, unsafe, unsuitable or returned food

Once a wholesaler, manufacturer or importer issues a product recall, the food retail and hospitality businesses who sell its products must take steps to prevent an accidental sale of the recalled product by:

  • Identifying the recalled food
  • Holding it in storage
  • Keeping the food separate from other foods that do not pose a risk until you receive instructions from the business issuing the product recall

If you have recalled a food, you must keep it separate from other foods in your business until you decide on a suitable method of disposal.

Instructions for Wholesale Suppliers, Manufacturers and Importers

What information must my Product Recall Plan contain?

As a starting point, the Product Recall Plan should outline:

  • Contact information for each member in the recall team
  • Each member’s responsibility

As an integral part of a food business’ Food Safety Plan, the Product Recall Plan should include steps to determine:

  • The extent of the recall (for example, has the product already reached the retail level and been sold to consumers)
  • Risks associated with a potentially unsafe product
  • Regions affected by the recall (where the product has been distributed)
  • Wholesalers, distribution centres, supermarkets, hospitals and restaurants who have received or will receive the product
  • Information to help businesses and the public to identify and return the recalled food (the product name, the batch code, the date mark, the reason for the recall, where to return the food, and who to contact for more information)
  • Arrangements for retrieving food distributed to supermarkets, distribution centres, or other food outlets
  • Arrangements to assess the amount of recalled food that has been returned and how much of it still circulates in the marketplace

The Product Recall Plan should also record whom must be contacted about the recall. This list may include:

  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
  • The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA)
  • Commonwealth and State or Territory Ministers for Health, Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading in States and Territories where the product has been distributed
  • Wholesalers, distribution centres, supermarkets, hospitals and restaurants who have received or will receive the product

Steps For Handling A Product Recall

Step 1. Identify the need to recall food

If you need to recall a food, you should contact the government authority in the Australian State or Territory where your food business’ head office is situated.

Step 2. Notify Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

For all Australian recalls, you must notify FSANZ as soon as a recall action has been decided. You can contact the FSANZ Recall Coordinator on:

  • Monday-Friday 9am-5pm: (02) 6271 2610
  • After hours: 0412 166 965

The FSANZ Recall Coordinator will ask you a series of questions that will form the basis of an initial recall report. You must be prepared with the following information:

Product details

  • Product name
  • The batch code
  • The date mark
  • Package size
  • Package description
  • Other identifying markings available (including Lot/APN/EAN code if applicable)
  • A photograph of the product
  • A picture of the product label

Contact details

  • Your contact details
  • The product manufacturer’s details

Product distribution details

  • Food business contact details
  • States and territories
  • Types of retail outlets from which the recalled product was available for sale
  • Any import or export information, if applicable
  • Reason for recall
  • Results of any testing undertaken
  • Corrective actions in your food business is taking to reduce the possibility that the problem will happen again

After completing the initial recall report, FSANZ will liaise with the State or Territory authority to confirm recall details. After this, FSANZ will develop official recall documentation.

Step 3. Inform your customers

To inform your customers of the recall, notify them as soon as possible and provide all relevant recall information. This includes:

  • Product identification details
  • The reason why the food has been recalled
  • The disposal method or action required to address the hazard

In the case of a consumer level recall, you must notify the public in all states and territories in which the recalled food was available for sale. To do this, you can use:

  • Food recall press advertisements in major newspapers
  • A press release
  • Radio advertisements
  • Notifications at the point of sale
  • Notifications on your website
  • Notifications through social media channels

The most appropriate method of communicating your recall to the public should be determined in consultation with the State authority. The FSANZ Recall Coordinator can assist in drafting these notifications.

Step 4. Dispose of recalled products

Once all food is recovered from the supply chain, you have a range of options to dispose of the recalled food. You can:

  • Destroy the food
  • Use it for animal feed (if safe to do so)
  • Further process it to ensure that it is safe and suitable to eat
  • Return it to the supplier for corrective action such as relabelling

You should consult with your state or territory authority to decide on the most appropriate disposal option.

Step 5. Report the outcome

After a recall is conducted, FSANZ will request:

  • An interim post-recall report two weeks after you notify the recall
  • A final post-recall report one month after the recall notification date

The interim report enables FSANZ to:

  • Monitor the accountability and recovery progress of the recalled food
  • Determine whether you have met your responsibilities for communicating recall information to customers, including the public

FSANZ informs your State or Territory of the progress of the recall after receiving the interim report, and if there is any outstanding information or requirements, the State or Territory may take follow-up action.

The final post-recall report will allow FSANZ to:

  • Assess the success of the recall
  • Evaluate the corrective action taken to decrease the chance of the food safety issue re-occurring
  • Record the final recovery or accountability of the recalled food

Once FSANZ has received and evaluated the final report, FSANZ will forward a copy to the State or Territory authority, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the recall will be closed.