What's the Beef? Where's the Beef?

Short answer? Contaminated with salmonella and headed to the dumpster. Given the whopping 6.9 million pounds of beef product recalled this past Thursday, it’s probably not just the salmonella that is making people sick.

How does a company trying to manage their supply chain keep track of the who, where, when and how of a large scale recall such as the one identified last week? As the media reports, this recall event has involved national retailers such as Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and stems from one source. Connecting the dots from one supplier like JBS Tolleson all the way down to a consumer’s freezer is a critical task during the initial response to a recall.

Specific production information and records need to be maintained in such a way that in the event of a recall, immediate actions can be taken to prevent consumers from being exposed to contaminants, in this case the sometimes fatal – but always unpleasant – salmonella.

As a quick analysis of the currently available data shows, this particular recall exposed consumers in many parts of the country to JBS Tolleson’s raw product. The map and chart below highlight a couple of key issues relevant to the recall effort. Clearly it highlights how widespread the recall is, and thus how costly it may ultimately become. But it also highlights that a detailed record of product traceability can enable a supplier to quickly identify the location of affected product for both the public and regulators. This can be helpful in minimizing broader damage and allows for that product to be tracked and removed from shelves, fencing in the problem to some degree.

As we saw earlier this year with the romaine lettuce recall, when the source cannot be identified the uncertainty surrounding the recall causes significant problems. In the beef recall, the source was quickly identified and the supplier was quick to identify the location of its affected product. While the ability to respond in this way can’t eliminate the costs associated with handling the recall, it can potentially minimize the broader problems associated with recall uncertainty.

Without proper traceability through the supply chain, both manufacturers and consumers can be left in the dark. Poor traceability can lead to greater uncertainly and a far more challenging time in mitigating the financial impact. We have seen this many times.

Heat Map of Shipped Contaminated Meat

Beef Blog State Map

Volume of Contaminated Meat by Customer

Beef Blog Customer Map

Traceability records must be diligently maintained at every step of the distribution channel, not only for the sake of public health, but also for the bottom line. If a segment of the supply chain cannot clearly define their exposure related to a recall, federal authorities will take steps to expand the recall to a degree that will ensure consumer safety, sometimes all the way up to a total recall.

Maintaining detailed receiving, inventory, production and sales records that allow companies to clearly and accurately identify the source of a contamination can make a difference worth millions of dollars in recall costs and business interruption damages.

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