Grocers are given failing marks on food recall transparency
A new report says that 22 of the top 26 grocery chains in the U.S. deserve an “F” for policies and practices that fail to adequately inform consumers about food recalls.
The non-profit and non-partisan U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has published a 29-page report that claims that grocers from Aldi to Whole Foods are falling short of protecting the public from potentially dangerous foodborne illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million Americans are sickened each year with a foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 die. The PIRG report says that when safety inspections fail to protect the public, the responsibility falls on grocers to communicate with consumers to keep them safe. Many, however, are falling woefully short, based on limited survey responses and publicly-available information, according to PIRG.
The group attempted to survey 26 of the largest U.S. grocery chains, but most declined to respond. PIRG then researched information about each chain’s response efforts by reviewing publicly available store policies, in-store customer notification and direct customer notification.
Eighty-four percent of the grocery store chains failed to provide any public description of their process for informing customers about recalls. The PIRG report asserts that this “leaves consumers to seek out this information and risk inconsistent implementation by individual stores.”
Fifty-eight percent of stores examined have a direct notification policy via phone or email to customers. PIRG was unable to discover how direct notifications were activated in the case of recalls.
Retailer websites did not include details on where recall information was posted in stores. “Notices may be placed at customer service desks, checkout counters, store shelves or elsewhere in the store,” according to the report. “Customers shouldn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to find out if food they recently purchased was recalled.”
Only two chain operators — Kroger and Target — were given a passing grade (C) for transparency and customer communications around food recalls. Kroger’s namesake stores, as well as its Harris Teeter and Smith’s divisions, were identified in the PIRG report.
The group is recommending that chains post food recall notification process information on their websites. It is also recommending that stores post Class 1 and Class 2 recall notices at checkouts and on store shelves where the recalled items were sold. Chains with loyalty program information should use those to directly alert customers within 48 hours of a recall being posted.
- Food Recall Failure: Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? – U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund
- Report: Supermarkets should do a better job informing shoppers about product recalls – USA Today
- Worried about food recalls? Don’t count on your grocery store – CBS News
- Most grocery stores fail to tell customers about food recalls. Here’s how yours stacks up – Fast Company
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think the PIRG’s report accurately portrays how well grocery chains communicate food recalls and related safety issues? Where do you see opportunities for improvement?