Dear Editor:

Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? Absolutely.

Fortunately for the nation’s grocery shoppers, the food industry has honed its expertise over the years – their reputation and economic viability demand they get this right. What U.S. PIRG describes in its recent survey as a communication challenge regarding food recalls, is only the final step of a food safety management program to effectively and efficiently remove potentially harmful products from commerce.

And believe me, a lot of people have opinions about how this information should be delivered to consumers since supermarkets touch the lives of 100 million households, and 91% of adults are regular food shoppers.

In our recent comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we addressed how food retailers respond to recalls with their supply chain partners. Ultimately, the food supply chain works within the regulatory framework and acts quickly to remove recalled product from shelves and notify shoppers. This is the most fundamental service grocers provide to maintain the trust of their customers. How they communicate this information is largely based on feedback from shoppers. According to FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2019, while television remains a top source during a crisis, digital communications methods in the form of email and text messages lead the way in how consumers prefer to hear about food recalls.

Still, we recognize that communication preferences vary generationally and regionally. Therefore, retailers utilize multiple methods of communication depending on the circumstances to communicate recalls to their customers.

While every recall is a response to risk mitigation, they are not always associated with a health danger. Undeclared allergens are actually the leading cause of U.S. food recalls. The FDA has stated that Reportable Food Registry reports of undeclared food allergens increased from 30 percent to 47 percent  during the five year period from 2009-2013. For example, a wheat-based food may erroneously be marked as gluten free. As a proactive measure to better understand root-cause labeling errors, FMI and its Foundation awarded the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Food Science and Technology Department a $20,000 grant in September 2017 to identify issues and to recommend best-practice procedures for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers in order to reduce undeclared allergen recalls. FMI Foundation is proud to support research which aims to improve public health efforts nationwide.

We will continue to participate in the comments process with government agencies, and our industry remains committed to communicating relevant recall information to customers wherever – and however – they shop.

— Hilary Thesmar, Ph D, RD, CFS, chief food and product safety officer and senior vice president for food safety at FMI.

About FMI: According to the organization’s website, the Food Marketing Institute was formed in 1977 through the merger of the National Association of Food Chains and Super Market Institute, two organizations that had served the industry since the 1930s. Robert Aders, former U.S. undersecretary of labor, became its first president and CEO and served from 1977 – 1993. Other presidents and CEOs of the organization have been Timothy M. Hammonds from 1993 – 2008, and Leslie G. Sarasin from 2008 – present.

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