Online portal to speed product recalls
Supermarkets say they will able to pull unsafe goods off the shelves much faster using a new online portal that will make managing product recalls easier.
The system is being launched as the Food & Grocery Council criticises separate plans by the Consumer Affairs Ministry to tighten up on recalls.
The portal, ProductRecallNZ, is designed to let food and beverage producers quickly notify retailers of recalls as well as to track how recalls are progressing.
Not-for-profit barcoding company GS1 spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" developing the voluntary system, launched on Monday, which has the support of the two biggest supermarket groups, Countdown and Foodstuffs, and the Primary Industries Ministry. Other backers include Fonterra, Cadbury, Goodman Fielder and Nestle.
GS1 said it would replace "slower and less reliable" paper-based communication, emails and phone calls. ProductRecallNZ will also enable retailers to stage "mock recalls" for training purposes.
GS1 spokesman Shaun Bosson said if a supplier issued a recall, retailers would first be informed by text message and email. Countdown and Foodstuffs would integrate the system with their check-outs so that products subject to a recall could not be sold, he said.
Suppliers with a turnover of less than $1 million a year will pay $109 a year to use the system, with higher fees for larger businesses.
A hundred organisations have signed up to use the portal. Bosson said GS1 had a target of 1500-2000.
The solution would be successful only with broad adoption. "If recalls are being handled outside the system then the benefits can't be realised."
Food & Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said there was a food safety recall every few weeks.
Existing systems worked well, but the new one would dramatically cut the time they took.
As far as she was aware, there had never been a case of a food product being sold after a recall causing harm, she said.
Rich said ProductRecallNZ was ''another indication of how seriously the food industry takes it processes''.
She said she was surprised the Government also planned, through its Consumer Law Reform Bill, to require all manufacturers to notify the chief executive of the Consumer Affairs Ministry of any product safety recalls.
''We are being lumped in with everything else. It is completely unnecessary and duplicative and at odds with the Government's desire to have a 'one door' policy,'' she said.
The ministry said it could not comment as the bill was before a select committee.
A separate Food Bill in front of Parliament would raise the fines for selling unsafe food to $300,000 and give officials, rather than ministers, the power to order recalls, Rich said.
The fees for ProductRecallNZ represented ''cheap piece of mind'', she said.
DB Breweries quality assurance manager Dianna Bird said recalls could be a stressful time for a manufacturer, especially as they were rare.
''An industry-wide solution to assist in this area is long overdue.''
Bosson said GS1 intended to extend ProductRecallNZ later so it could also be used to manage the recall of products in the health sector and of general merchandise.
- © Fairfax NZ News