DALLAS — In response to the estimated 900 product recalls that have taken place in the past 18 months, the Food Marketing Institute and GS1 US plan to launch an online portal by late summer that is designed to allow rapid and secure communication of standard recall information between manufacturers and retailers.
Called the Product Recall Collaboration Zone, the portal will offer a single alternative to the hodgepodge of methods — such as phone calls, faxes, emails and press releases — now used by manufacturers to issue recall notices to retailers. “There is currently a wide variety of recall standards and methods, and the result is often missing or extraneous information,” said Tim White, director of product development, GS1 Canada. “This attempts to provide an answer to that problem.”
White, along with Patrick Walsh, FMI's vice president of industry and trade development, discussed the portal last week in a session at GS1 US' U Connect 08 conference held here at the Gaylord Texan. The session offered the first detailed explanation of the design and operation of the portal.
Subscription fees for access to the portal, based on annual revenue, will be announced in 30-45 days, Walsh said, adding, “Our object is to keep the cost to a bare minimum.” FMI plans to recruit retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers to use the portal to build a “critical mass” of users, said Walsh. Only retailers and wholesalers subscribing to the portal will be able to receive recall alerts.
Beginning last fall, FMI, Arlington, Va., developed the portal in collaboration with GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington. The form and functionality of the portal are based on “industry best practices and [Food and Drug Administration] and [U.S. Department of Agriculture] recommendations,” said White.
The solution has been demonstrated to the FDA and “received its support,” said Walsh. Two pilots of the system were conducted with more than 25 retailers and manufacturers, including Kraft, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Supervalu, Wakefern, Harris Teeter and Hy-Vee.
The portal was designed so that each company subscribing to it has a primary subscriber who has been “vetted by GS1,” and can in turn assign permission to internal users, said White.
Under the system, each recall is assigned a tracking number called a global document trade identifier (GDTI). The system documents when a recall is sent, when it is received and opened, and who opened it. All recall information is permanently stored.
The portal requires that two people at a manufacturer set up a recall before it can be sent to retailers — a “requestor” who creates the recall and an “approver” who evaluates it and then either rejects it or sends it. At the retailer, someone is assigned to be the “receiver” who gets the initial recall notice. The approver and retailer are alerted by email that they should log into the portal for further information.
The main form that a manufacturer uses to issue a recall is called the recall snapshot. It contains the product name, GDTI, recall classification (severity), reason for the recall, government agencies involved, distribution area, amount of product in distribution and distribution dates, among other data.
A separate form lists product-handling instructions, including handling in stores, warehouses and in-transit, as well as special handling for hazardous materials. Another form includes reimbursement instructions.
The manufacturer issuing a recall via the portal must also list on a separate form the name of a recall coordinator as well as that person's email address and after-hours telephone number. “Retailers [in the pilot] were happy to see this because many recalls offer little contact information,” said White. Manufacturers can also list a consumer hotline number and website for additional information.
The portal allows manufacturers to include any attachment up to 5 megabytes in size, including product images. They can also use hyperlinks that lead retailers to other documents or special instructions.
White said that GS1 and FMI will hold regular meetings with pilot members to assess its effectiveness and consider improvements. One upcoming change will be new methods for retailers to contact a manufacturer after receiving a recall notice. Special forms for specific product categories are also being considered to make the portal “more robust,” said White.
Tim Hammonds, president and CEO, FMI, had briefed attendees on the portal at the FMI Show in Las Vegas last month. At the time, he said the association was also pushing suppliers to improve the timing of their recall announcements.
“Forty percent of FDA Class 1 recalls are issued after 5 p.m. on Friday night or on weekends,” Hammonds said.