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Supplier Slip-ups: How Food Companies Can Manage the Multiplier Effect

By Stericycle Expert Solutions

Cumin spice. Sunflower seeds.

Pathogen contamination. Undeclared allergens.

Recalls that originate with suppliers can involve many different causes and virtually any ingredient. This creates a “multiplier effect.” Like dominoes, a single supplier issue can bring down dozens of companies and hundreds of brands.

Food companies should approach this problem in two ways:

1. Take steps to reduce the likelihood and mitigate the risk.

2. Have a plan for managing the recall effectively in the event the multiplier effect occurs anyway.


Step one includes having full awareness of your supply chain. This often involves more complexity than food companies may realise. They may know who they are dealing with directly, but their suppliers may have suppliers of their own. To get the full picture, companies should ask a lot of questions. Where are their ingredients grown or manufactured? What steps have they taken to maintain secure and sanitary facilities? How do they identify allergens and ensure they are declared properly?

But while asking more questions is a good start, companies shouldn’t rely on supplier certifications alone. They should also do independent testing of those ingredients for potential pathogens and allergens on a regular basis. By catching the issue early, companies may be able to avoid a recall or reduce its scope so that fewer products are affected. Investing in new technologies can also help boost quality efforts and tracking capabilities.

Recall Response:

Even with these protocols in place, multiplier effect recalls will occur. That’s why it is crucial to have a detailed recall plan in place and test it regularly through mock recalls. When the recall involves a large quantity or a food product meant primarily for children, it means more negative headlines that can cause alarm among consumers, leading to high call volumes. It may be necessary to ramp up contact centre staffing or use an outside partner.

Companies should consider not only the customers who actually consume the product, but also their retail customers. Recalls can have a big impact on them, as shoppers often turn to the familiar when they have questions. It is critical to convey information to retailers clearly, comprehensively, and quickly. Since some retailers will engage in “shelf sweeping” during a recall (removing all of the products rather than going through individual UPC and lot codes to separate and clear only the affected product), it may be necessary to use a field force to manage that process. Taking this step can save money and prevent customers from turning to another brand.


A multiplier effect recall can be particularly frustrating for companies. Even when taking every step possible to reduce the potential for contamination in your own production, a supplier issue can cause disruptions. But the good news is that by recognising the possibility and taking steps to mitigate the risks, these recalls don’t necessarily have to cause any long-term damage.


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