TOTAL RECALL: Dr. Regina Tan, Food Safety and Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture on Recall Management

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Dr. Regina L. Tan Director, Recall Management and Technical Analysis Staff , Office of Field Operations, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), speaks to Andrea Charles from Cold Chain IQ about the key logistical challenges for an effective recall and what steps can be taken to increase food safety across the entire supply chain and reduce the risk of recalls.

Cold Chain IQ: Could you give us a brief overview of your duties and expertise, please?

R Tan: Yes, thank you so much. It is my pleasure to be able to work with the Office of Field Operations as Director of Recall Management and Technical Analysis. And as director, one of things that I do is I work both with our establishments and our food production partners, as well as our operations personnel who are in the front lines of food safety every day to ensure that the products that the nation is producing and consuming are safe and wholesome.

Cold Chain IQ: The dynamics of the food system are changing all the time; what are some of the key logistical challenges for an effective recall?

R Tan: No matter what changes in our food system, one key factor remains the same: record-keeping. It’s key for an effective recall. Cold chain logistics can play an important role along our entire process: analyzing the food safety situation, identifying the distribution pathway and notifying key parties that they have recall responsibilities. Specifically, cold chain logistics can help us to understand where quality management systems may have broken down, whether those breakdowns affect the safety and wholesomeness of our food and how we identify where that food was distributed, so that we can ensure effective communication throughout any necessary recall activities.
Cold Chain IQ: In your opinion, what steps can we take to increase food safety across the entire supply chain and reduce the risk of recalls?

R Tan: If there’s one word that summarises our approach to food safety at FSIS, it’s modernisation. The need for modernising our food safety system is clear; as pathogens evolve and new threats emerge, we must ensure that our food safety system and our inspection process responds to these challenges. Modernisation alone will not get us where we need to be; meeting the food safety challenges of the future will also require innovation – innovative ways of going about our work, innovative technologies and innovative methods of communicating with a public that is more engaged on food safety issues than at any time in recent memory. As food safety challenges continue to evolve, we will also need to be vigilant. Some of the most important prevention steps may occur before a product ever reaches a producer’s place in the supply chain.

Take labelling, for instance; producers should make sure their labels are up to date, correctly note what is in the packaging, that the most recent ingredient list is used and any allergens are declared. Also make sure to follow the test and hold rule, especially for those who must control E. coli and listeria monocytogenes. Keeping those products under proper control until you get clear results has benefits for the producer and consumer. FSIS post all its recall news releases online and each one can serve as a learning opportunity because they do try to note how a problem occurred. And you can access those at http://www.fsis.usda.govare/

Cold Chain IQ: Are we witnessing a change in the spectrum of food-borne outbreaks?

R Tan: The United States Centers for Disease Control and prevention will have great information on that topic. I can say that food-borne illness has always been a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, and that it remains the case today. Advances in public health surveillance and increased collaboration between partners have changed how we detect and respond to food-borne outbreaks. While we are better prepared than ever, I am happy to say that the actual number of FSIS recalls related to illnesses is actually very low, with one in the last year, seven in 2011, and six in 2010.

Cold Chain IQ: I understand you’re going to be speaking at the Cold Chain Food Logistics event, which will be looking at novel technologies and critical regulations, taking place November 6 -8 in Chicago, Illinois. Why are events like this important to the industry, and what are you hoping to gain?

R Tan: Thank you for that question. Everyone is so busy in their own worlds, we often forget that it’s important for all segments of our food supply chain to gather to exchange new information, hear each others’ perspectives and learn from each other. Innovation and action can emerge from those experiences, and through greater collaboration and partnered innovation, we together will meet the food safety challenges before us.

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