First polony, now pilchards

By Linda Jackson on 10 March 2020

Almost two years to the day, sees the South African food industry back in the grips of a massive food recall. Feels a bit like de ja vu doesn’t it? Similarities notes include:

The exorbitant cost

The listeriosis crisis cost Tiger Brands R1.4 billion in revenue during its latest financial year, the company’s chief executive, Lawrence MacDougall, said on Thursday during an interview.

The outbreak of listeriosis, which killed more than 200 people, cut the food group’s operating income profit by R425 million for the group’s financial year ended September, he added.

Tiger Brands has put the total costs, excluding operating losses relating to the recall of its value added meat products, at R430 million while insurance recoveries have been R50 million.

City Press, Justin Brown 2018-11-23 19:25

The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications on Wednesday said the recent recall of canned pilchards has cost manufacturing company, West Point Processors, R82 million.

EWN, 2020-02-27,

And the fake news that follows

And don't forget the resulting impact on the product category and our fragile economy, just like we saw with polony.

It has been a bad week for Lucky Star which has been upset that its tinned pilchard brand has been targeted as unfit for consumption.

The Lucky Star brand which does not appear on the list of 12 brands manufactured by West Point Processors, has also had to defend its position in the face of a video clip on Facebook showing worms in a tin of Lucky Star pilchards.

Arnold Prinsloo, chairperson of the SA Meat Processors’ Association’s crisis committee, said his members had seen a 75% decrease in the demand for polony and viennas and a decrease of 50% in other pork cold cuts.

Prinsloo said the forecast losses for meat processors is estimated to be about R800m a month, excluding the losses in related industries.

“If the situation does not drastically change, we fear that about 30 smaller producers will have to close their doors, with 8 000 possible job losses in the industry.”


And the consumer confidence of the poorest of the poor?

At the same time, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) said the recent concerns over canned pilchards could affect the overall fishing industry.

Fawu urged consumers to continue supporting the industry despite the recent recall of canned pilchards in tomato and chili sauce.

The union said while it welcomed the recall as a necessary measure to protect consumers, not all products were unsafe.

Fawu’s Zolani Twala said: “Our fear is that the consumers are now aware of what is happening and they might no longer buy this product. We want to encourage them to take back the cans but they shouldn’t stop buying the product because this is going to kill the market and our members will suffer.”

EWN, 2020-02-27,

And the point is?

The stress associated with this kind of situation must be incredible and we can only sympathise with the company affected, don’t for one-minute think “It will never happen to us”.

While the root cause for the recalls may be very different (or are they?), the outcomes are alarming similar. Where are the areas we need to focus on as an industry?

  1. Food safety is not going away – while the pains of polony have faded, this recent reminder once again illustrates the need for daily controls – not just passing an audit. It also reminds us of the power of the media.
  2. Increased vigilance on the “little” things – Preventing the recall is the first line of defence. More attention to the detais is essential – maintenance, cleaning – the basics.
  3. More regular recalls – while this may be counterintuitive, the only way to educate the consumer is to expose them to more recalls, smaller ones of course, where they are gently eased into their role of co-operation to ensure their own safety. This baptism of fire is not helping with their increasing lack of trust in the food industry. A pre-cautionary recall is a good thing for us as consumers – it means you, as a food producer are taking our health seriously, doesn’t it?
  4. Educate the consumer on how their food is made. At the root of the issue, the consumer would like to know what went wrong and what can be done to ensure it does not happen again. Can I suggest we use pictures?
  5. Check your recall procedure and your insurance policy – you might just need to use it one day