Kaitlin Wowak, associate professor of I.T., analytics and operations in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, explains the options that food suppliers have in deciding when and where to initiate a product recall.
As the food supply chain has become global, it has also increased the complexity of the recall process. Isolating a problem and identifying where contaminated products originated becomes extremely difficult and time consuming. One estimate finds that 80% of food products involved in a recall take around 10 months for the issue to be resolved, and the product to be removed from the market. The goal, says Wowak, is to make that process more effective and streamlined.
Few food suppliers today can trace the provenance of their products all the way back to the farm. Recalls continue to be hampered by reliance on manual processes, with “a lot more gaps in the food supply chain than we were hoping to discover,” says Wowak. Product codes might follow an item to a certain point in the supply chain, then change. The solution lies in digitizing the information that accompanies food from its origin to the consumer.
In the case of a recall, companies have three main options available to them: scale, abandonment and deferral. Scale involves the expansion of a recall over time, as more information about the source of the contamination if obtained. Abandonment is an option when the recall is discovered to have been falsely initiated. And deferral can be deployed when the supplier needs more time to diagnose the situation. The challenge, says Wowak, lies in balancing those options — a deferral, for example, could allow for a more precise and accurate recall, but it could also result in the product being withdrawn from the market more slowly.
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