Product safety experts stress the value of prevention and preparedness in dealing with product recalls. Scott Scdoris, director, food and beverage, for Celsis Rapid Detection, a manufacturer of microbial detection products, said the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed last December, shifts the regulatory focus to preventing contamination. "This legislation has made it more important than ever to have reliable and efficient lean manufacturing practices in place as part of your overall contamination and recovery plan," he wrote in a recent article on the new law.

ASU's Dooley also emphasized the value of good risk management practices aimed at preventing or minimizing recalls. "In general, you want to shift quality dollars away from reaction and toward prevention," he says. "On the whole, I'd rather throw a dollar at R&D to make my processes safer and not put my supply chain or my consumers at risk."

Experts say being prepared for a recall involves a number of steps. Companies should have a system in place that actively monitors for potential problems. They also should take time to establish a framework for making a recall decision, determining the principles they will follow and appropriate regulatory requirements. Next, they should have a plan for executing a recall if it becomes necessary.

Kozenski:
"Companies that have their act together and clearly understand their inventory genealogy and where their inventory is being shipped can do a very focused recall."

"A product recall can be very complex," Dooley points out. "There can be lots of logistical issues that need to be figured out before you can execute the recall. You want to figure this out ahead of time so that you can act in short order." For example, he said, if you are a consumer products manufacturer, you should have a plan for communicating with distributors and retailers.

Visibility and traceability are key aspects of improving product recall efforts. Manufacturers are investing in various tagging and identification systems so that they can identify down to a specific batch or even part where a problem might lie and then correlate that with shipping information to pinpoint where the product is in the supply chain.

Tom Kozenski, vice president, product strategy, for RedPrairie, a provider of supply chain, workforce and retail software systems, said the way in which recalls are announced gives a "pretty clear picture" of how companies have addressed automation of their inventory and shipping data. "Companies that have very little process or very manual processes are recalling everything. Companies that have their act together and clearly understand their inventory genealogy and where their inventory is being shipped can do a very focused recall."

Kozenski advocates mock recalls so that companies can check on whether systems will actually work before a crisis takes place. "When a recall hits, you find out that someone purged the data in a computer and you don't have shipment history," he says. "That is the end of the world there. You have no idea what is going on."