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A Big Fortnight for Product Recalls

The last two weeks have seen two very important product recalls (back) in the news…

We last blogged about the Whirlpool tumble dryer recall back in June 2016.  At that stage the recall had already been going on for more than 6 months, and the company was receiving much criticism for the length of time it was taking to carry out repairs to affected products.  We never dreamt that 3 years on, the recall would still be hitting the headlines!  However, Whirlpool was back in the news last week, when the government announced that it believed that up to 500 000 of the faulty dryers may still be in use in the UK.   The government also estimated that the fault has caused 750 fires over an 11-year period!

Meanwhile, just days earlier we received the shocking news that two patients had died in hospital after contracting listeriosis, believed to have been caused by listeria in pre-packed sandwiches.  According to Public Health England, the sandwiches were supplied by The Good Food Chain who had been supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats which subsequently produced a positive test result for the outbreak strain of listeria.  As of today, eight hospitals have reported a total of nine cases, with 5 fatalities.

These two incidents perhaps represent extreme examples of the differing challenges of a product recall in different sectors.  Recalls of consumer goods are notoriously difficult, given the problem of tracing who owns affected products.  In fact, if whirlpool has traced all but 10% of the dyers sold they have done extraordinarily well; although that must be set against the time taken and the massive publicity the problem has received.  The government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is urging Whirlpool to “reach consumers in more creative ways” but it is unclear how much more can be achieved at this late stage.  Really the challenge for all firms in the sector is to build traceability into the distribution of consumer goods in the first place: maybe there is a cunning technological solution?

By contrast, we know exactly where the affected sandwiches have gone: the BBC website lists 43 NHS Trusts, all of whom have withdrawn products from the Good Food Chain.  The problem here is the rate at which the contamination affects people, requiring information to be shared throughout the supply chain at lightning speed.

Clearly then your product recall strategy needs to be tailored to your industry sector and, as with any other contingency plan, needs to be thoroughly exercised and supported by appropriate crisis communications.