If you’re like me, you have probably wondered why the same foods keep getting tangled up in the major recalls. For example, what is it about romaine lettuce that makes it so susceptible to bacterial contamination? I always thought salads were the best choice on the menu, but have I been wrong this whole time? Or is it just a coincidence that the most high-profile food recalls seem to involve lettuce? Let’s explore a bit further.
Will I Always Be in Fear of Romaine Lettuce?
For starters, no, romaine is not doomed. In fact, it is both extremely healthy and popular worldwide. Americans eat approximately 12.5 pounds of fresh lettuce every year. Romaine is one of the most commonplace, coupled with spinach, kale, and so on. What is notable about this list is that, in the past year, every item on that list has been affected by food recalls in one way or another. In 2018 and 2019 we saw headlines about the E. coli outbreak in romaine, but fewer people remember that earlier this year, Whole Foods voluntarily recalled prepacked items containing baby spinach due to the fear of Salmonella contamination. And let’s not forget that in both 2018 and 2019, certain Eat Smart Sweet Kale salads were recalled in Canada due to potential listeria contamination. So is it all leafy greens that we should be wary of?
Are Raw Foods More Susceptible to Food Recalls?
The truth is that almost all fruits and vegetables are at a higher chance of being contaminated in their raw state. Cooked veggies are safer because the heat from however you choose to prepare them typically kills off any harmful germs. Of course, the majority of us don’t cook lettuce, which helps clarify why it is so often wrapped up in food recalls.
See the below chart published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows a strong correlation between raw foods and foodborne illnesses.
Raw foods will always be more susceptible to pathogens, and therefore, food recalls, because raw foods need to be maintained at specific temperatures to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Sometimes, a food shipment might travel in a truck that drops below the ideal temperature, and because there is no record of the incident, the shipment makes its way to the grocery store and onto a consumer’s dinner plate. Thus begins the cycle of food recalls.
With blockchain, you have access to all information regarding what conditions produce is stored in. If the temperature drops below what is suitable at any given point on a shipment’s journey, supply chain managers will be able to see that the food is unsuitable for consumption.
Why Is the Recall Process So Slow?
So why do food recalls take so long to get resolved? For starters, it takes a while to identify what the culprit is. All reported cases are analyzed, and from there correlations are found. Most of us eat meals comprised of several different elements, so it takes considerable time to narrow down the list and then cross check with other instances across the country,
As quoted in Business Insider, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said: “that the issue isn’t that there’s more unsafe food…what’s happening is that we have better technology than ever before to link outbreaks of human illness to a common pathogen.”
What are Some Preventative Measures to Avoid Food Recalls?
Technology has come a long way in the past few years, and it is amazing how far information can travel. Food recalls have always been an issue, and now we can hear about every single one across the globe thanks to the internet and social media.
Technology could also be used to control and minimize the impact of food recalls with blockchain. Blockchain increases visibility and traceability, both of which should be a part of all food supply chains. Customers want to know where their food is coming from, and blockchain provides the most accurate and easily accessible account due to its incorrigible ledger. It typically takes about seven days to trace the origins of food in the supply chain. With blockchain, it’s a matter of seconds.
Incorporating blockchain into your food supply chain also means that if a recall is necessary, a supply chain manager using blockchain can identify precisely which products are affected so that proactive steps can be implemented. The ability to quickly identify any issues with the food product, thanks to blockchain, can prevent a nationwide panic by directly identifying where the product is contaminated and allowing managers to pull said product immediately. Additionally, blockchain can allow for supply chain managers to determine exactly where in the supply chain something went wrong. This can help place accountability and enable decision-makers to reevaluate their processes moving forward.
Next Steps Moving Forward
The biggest takeaway here is not to avoid all leafy greens. It’s that it is incredibly important to know where your food comes from. Knowledge is power, and it will directly correlate to more trust in the system. Supply chain managers and consumers both want more visibility and the ability to track lettuce from farm to table. Add blockchain to your operations and see how it can transform the food supply chain for the better, and eventually make food recalls a thing of the past.