Wakefern Vice President Testifies Before U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee

Arlington, VA — March 11, 2009 — Food retailers have extensive systems to safeguard food and, when a recall occurs, to quickly remove products and alert consumers, according to testimony today by Mike Ambrosio, vice president, quality assurance, at the Wakefern Food Corporation, before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare. Wakefern is a cooperative owned and operated by 45 independent retailers, most of which run one or two stores under the ShopRite banner in the Northeast.

“Our stores have many prevention programs in place to protect our customers, such as consumer education programs, employee food safety training, extensive sanitation programs and food safety management systems,” he testified on behalf of his company and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) at the hearing titled the Impact of Food Recalls on Small Businesses.

“The most important goal of America’s food retailers and wholesalers is to ensure that the products we sell are safe. The supermarket industry takes this responsibility seriously and actively seeks new ways to ensure the safety of our nation’s food for all Americans,” Ambrosio said.

How Food Retailers Handle a Product Recall

Ambrosio walked members of Congress through Wakeferns’s recall procedures:

  • All identified products are embargoed and segregated to a designated holding area.

  • U.P.C. codes are locked out of point-of-sale (POS) systems so products cannot be scanned at checkouts or sold on the company website.

  • A bulletin is sent to all store owners and applicable in-store divisions and management staff, and the information is posted on the company website.

  • Class I recalls trigger automated phone calls that notify store owners and managers directly to reinforce the bulletin.

  • Private third-party auditors visit company stores to ensure Class I recalled product has been removed from the shelves within a 24-hour period.

How Consumers Are Notified

At the same time, he testified, “Our Consumer Affairs Department is creating signs for display at the point of sale and sending releases to the media. Depending on the type of recall, they search for data from our loyalty card program that allows us to notify our customers directly through phone calls and emails about a product that they had purchased.”

Ambrosio emphasized, “It is important that grocers be able to employ a variety of different notification methods based on what works best for their customers and their ability to reach as many consumers as possible.”

In the last fiscal year, Ambrosio reported, Wakefern retailers had 214 recalls, including 27 Class I and 43 pharmacy recalls, which could pose a significant public health risk. Company employees dedicated 2,140 hours, the equivalent and 305 working days, to handle them. The time to implement the recalls linked to peanut butter and paste this fiscal year will be substantially higher, he said.

He shared with the panel FMI’s policy that supports giving the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to mandate the recall of a potentially unsafe product if the manufacturer refuses to initiate a voluntary one.

Ambrosio also described the FMI product recall portal for suppliers, retailers and wholesalers launched with GS1 US. Suppliers will be able to use this web-based service to deliver complete and standardized descriptions of recalled products expeditiously to retailers and wholesalers.