Are you ready for emergencies? The reasons to start building food safety and recall programs

Green Mountain Girls' veggies! Source: eatstayfarm.com

Green Mountain Girls’ veggies! Source: eatstayfarm.com

By Omar Oyarzybal, UVM Extension Food Safety Faculty

What would you do if a customer tells you that your food product made her/his sick? What would you say to a state or federal agent that calls you to tell you that human pathogens have been found in your food products? If you have prepared, or start preparing, a food safety plan and a recall plan or program, you will be better off to respond in case these emergencies arise.

Developing and implementing a food safety plan for your food product, whichever product it may be, can be quite challenging. First there are no guarantees that a food safety program will completely render your foods free of human pathogens. But a solid food safety program will expose the critical areas during processing that need to be closely monitored.

The first step is make sure you understand if there are state and federal the food safety regulations that apply to your products. Please send us an email (omar.oyarzabal@uvm.edu) if you have any question related to food safety regulations for your products. It is also important to understand which human pathogens have been traditionally associated with your foods. For instance, we know that Salmonella is commonly found in raw meat and poultry products and vibrios, a group of bacteria found in costal, warm waters, are associated to the consumption of raw oysters (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/09/emerging-pathogens-vibrio-cases-in-oysters-expected-to-continue-rising/#.VGJkPMk-X8c). But there are other instances where the prediction of the pathogen that may appear in a food product is not easy, even for microbiology professionals working in food safety. Recent examples of these new food-pathogen combinations are Salmonella in peanut butter (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/salmonella-poisoning-peanut-butter/) and Listeria in cantaloupes. The latter example unfortunately resulted in the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak in the US in nearly 90 years (http://www.cdc.gov/24-7/SavingLives/listeria/).

Another important program is a recall program. Basically this program helps you walk through the actions to take in case your food is involved in a recall of any sort. Being involved in a recall is a stressful situation and you need to have a “plan of action” to understand the resources needed to react on time to protect the branding, or the reputation, of your foods. This program also helps you understand how recall are implemented and who are the local contacts that can help you in these emergency situations. In addition, practicing mock recalls is also important to keep your program and resources fresh and ready.

In summary, the reasons to have a food safety program and a recall program are quite compelling if you want to protect the reputation of your products in case of emergencies. You can not completely reduce the chances of being in emergency situations, but at least you can be prepared for those stressful circumstances. Finally, a recall program and a food safety plan is indispensable in these days to sell your foods in federal commerce.

Please send us an email (omar.oyarzabal@uvm.edu) with your comments or questions about this article or other areas of food safety.

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About UVM New Farmer Project

The UVM Extension New Farmer Project draws together information and resources within Extension and the broader Vermont Agriculture community to assist new farmers in creating successful ag businesses.
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