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The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) reports that, believing "consumers have a right to know about food recalls to protect their health from dangerous pathogens, chunks of metal, and undeclared allergens," a survey of "26 of the largest grocery stores in the United States to determine the efficacy of their policies and practices notifying consumers about food recalls" revealed that most were not getting the job done.

FMI-The Food Industry Association begged to differ.

Here's what PIRG says in its report:

"The U.S. PIRG Education Fund Food Recall Failure report evaluates supermarkets on publicly available information regarding three different areas of recall notification: store policies, in-store customer notification, and direct customer notification.

"Harris Teeter, Kroger, Smith's and Target were the only stores to receive a passing grade by providing adequate information about their recall notification policies to the public.

"Eighty-four percent of grocery store chains failed to provide any public description of their process for notifying customers about recalls. This critical failure leaves consumers to seek out this information and risk inconsistent implementation by individual stores.

"More than half of surveyed grocery store chains report some program to directly notify consumers about recalls through email or phone. In most cases, we were unable to find out when the program is activated, how customers participate, or what information is included in the notifications — limiting its potential effectiveness.

"No store provided information online about where recall notices are located in stores."

And here's what Hilary Thesmar, FMI's Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and SVP Food Safety, says in response:

"Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? Absolutely. 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.

"The greater food industry is effective at recall communications, particularly grocers at the end of the supply chain due to the number of recalls they manage with varying products and volume. Importantly, we believe recalls are the final step of a food safety management program to effectively and efficiently remove potentially harmful products from commerce."

And, she added, "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 customer.

"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."

KC's View:
  This is just anecdotal, but I do not think I have ever - EVER - received a notification from a supermarket chain with which I have done business about a recall.


Also anecdotally, I would suggest that during various recent recalls - like of lettuce - while the product may have been pulled from the shelves, there was little if any signage in stores I visited explaining why the items were gone, and what the store knew about the situation.  And when the recalls were over, those items magically returned, but again without explanation or reassurance.

Failing grades on this issue for most supermarket chains don't surprise me.  Most retailers I talk to about it think that being educational and informational puts them at risk if the facts change or new data becomes available, and so they'd rather say nothing.  And then they wonder why their relationship with the shopper can be put at risk by disruptive influences that understand the importance of making and maintaining such connections.