Introduction of EventJust two months ago, Sargento was forced to recall a tremendous amount of its cheeses, which had been primarily acquired from a supplier, because of a possible Listeria outbreak (Carter, 2017). Listeria is a serious disease that can cause anything from diarrhea to death and would almost definitely create a major public relations scandal for Sargento. Even if none of the cheeses were actually affected and no one was actually hurt, the mere fact that the company had to concede the risk would cause many of its longstanding customers to select other cheese companies in the grocery store. No one wants to buy cheese from a company that may have Listeria and therefore it is likely that even long after the product was recalled many would choose other brands just to be safe. It is because of this that no one can truly accurately measure the damage that Sargento’s partnership with Deutsch Kase had over the ordeal.
Listeria is a facultative anaerobic bacterium, which can survive even without oxygen. It is because of its immense survivability that when a listeria contamination is discovered it can be extremely challenging to eradicate. Additionally, listeria is a very serious contamination and can lead to flu like symptoms, hospitalization, and morbidity (Sauders & D’Amico, 2016). As a result of this, the discovery of even a remote possibility of listeria outbreak in a food means that the food must be instantly recalled and news stations must be alerted to the issue. If the foods cannot be recalled in an expedited fashion there is a certainty that the CDC will get involved. No matter what, even if the listeria does not affect a single person, the resulting recall will cause many bystanders to assume from then on that the company that had the recall is selling products that are teeming with bacteria. Therefore, as the Sargento listeria panic shows, even the potential of a bacterial outbreak is extremely damaging to a company’s brand and can lead to uncertainty about the future. It highlights one of the most acute risks of engaging in partnerships with other suppliers.
The Food and Drug Administration has strict regulations regarding the recalling of foods. When the possibility of a listeria outbreak is present a company cannot simply update its Facebook and Twitter with a carefully designed message aiming to assuage concerns while convincing people to cook their cheese thoroughly. In fact, the FDA specifically exists to make sure that companies do not try to sweep their errors under the proverbial rug and instead take all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of consumers in the United States. The FDA specifically has a subsection of its food recall web section on listeria, as it is such a serious issue and one that pervades within the cheese market. In the even of a potential listeria outbreak, the company must release a press release that not only includes details about the dangers of listeria, but about the potential risks of the food, and also specific details about what they should do.
The press release must include brand specific information. A company cannot simply say to consumers that they shouldn’t buy a certain form of cheese. Instead, the company must admit that it is their cheese that is contaminated (Gills, Baker, & Auld, 2017). There are few things companies loathe more than being legally required to submit a press release telling people not to buy their product. It is because of this that companies do everything in their power to avoid product recalls. It is also because of this that Sargento swiftly ended its relationship with Deutsche Kase after the product recall. While there was nothing that the company could do to foresee the listeria outbreak Deutsche Kase created the first time, the company could avoid future issues in the future by working with other suppliers instead.
Cheese Production and Environmental Scanning
When working to produce cheese it is imperative to follow a standard operating procedure. Any person with Internet access can learn about the very specific regulations and expectations inherent with producing unpasteurized cheeses, which carry a higher risk than pasteurized ones. Raw milk and cheese can carry bacteria that would otherwise not survive, which is why selling these luxury cheeses means taking on a certain level of risk (Robinson, 2014). Still, many consumers want these cheeses, which companies like Sargento understand; it is for this reason that they take on the added complexity. One key regulation companies must be aware of is that if a cheese is not pasteurized (cooked to kill bacteria) then it must be aged a minimum of sixty days. This helps the cheese to outlive the bacteria and is part of the SOP for unpasteurized cheese. Similarly, the equipment used for processing must meet certain FDA standards.
There are many elements to equipment standards including allowing regular visits and approval from inspection services. The health department will analyze the equipment to make sure that it is being cleaned regularly and that cheeses that have not been aged to the proper life are not being exposed to those that have. This is because a cheese that has been aged for sixty days or more can still carry listeria and other bacteria if it is exposed to those cheeses that have not fulfilled the sixty-day requirement. Similarly, the employees being exposed to the cheese production must be fully trained in the methods and standard operating procedures. Employees must be trained to understand all standard operating procedures, must know how to clean all of the equipment, and must understand the differences between pasteurized and unpasteurized cheeses, so they can exercise FDA regulations at all times. An employee is just as likely to expose cheeses to bacteria as a machine and therefore the company must be just as careful with them (Wallace, Manning, & Soon, 2016).
Finally, upon export, cheese gains even more complexity. It is the responsibility of the company to understand the requirements of the country it is exporting too, but the FDA and regulatory commissions in the receiving country may both audit production. Export standards are subject to change without any notice and it is the responsibility of the company to understand these. Therefore, companies like Sargento (and Deutsche Kase) must understand the standards of the specific country they are selling cheese to. Myriad issues may arise, including the dreaded need for a recall and a public statement calling on consumers to return cheeses they purchased. For these reasons, it is paramount that the company remains up to date on all of the specifics of standard operating procedures.
Future Food Technology Implications
A great example of the future of cheese and food production in general is Canadian pizza chain Pizza Pizza. After introducing a vegan cheese at all of its locations, it has received a significant positive response from those who do not consume dairy (Fleming, 2017). While this does not mean companies like Sargento should give up selling real cheese, it shows that pushing to help people with more options is a benefit that the future will expect. As technology improves, offering a wider range of options becomes readily available. Additionally, vegan cheeses carry fewer risks, as they do not carry the bacteria most commonly found in dairy products.
Management must understand that a recall is the worst thing a company can have to do. For this reason, all standard operating procedures should be abided by. Additionally, the company must audit its suppliers and partners to ensure they are operating under the same standards. If their partner is failing, this will cause them to have to do a recall, so it is a risk that should not be undertaken lightly. Food technology theoretically eases these tensions, but because of them it is just as important that equipment is clean and employees are trained properly. The company should consider the triple bottom line theory: one should not simply focus on profits, but on profits, people, and the planet. If a food is going to harm people, the planet, or the company’s profits, it should not be made.
- Fleming, Alisa. (2017). Pizza Pizza: Dairy-Free Cheese Makes this Canadian Chain Grate! Go Dairy Free. Retrieved from http://www.godairyfree.org/dining-out/pizza-pizza-canada-2
- Sauders, B. D., & D’AMICO, D. J. (2016). Listeria monocytogenes cross-contamination of cheese: risk throughout the food supply chain. Epidemiology and Infection, 1-5.
- Robinson, R. K. (2014). Encyclopedia of food microbiology. C. A. Batt (Ed.). Academic press.
- Gills, S. M., Baker, S. S., & Auld, G. (2017). Collection methods for the 24-hour dietary recall as used in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 49(3), 250-256.
- Wallace, C. A., Manning, L., & Soon, J. M. (2016). Foodborne disease outbreaks: Lessons learned. In Foodborne Diseases: Case Studies of Outbreaks in the Agri-Food Industries (pp. 405-410). CRC Press.
- Carter, Terry. (2017). ICMYI: More Sargento Cheeses Were Recalled. Pop Sugar. Retrieved from https://www.popsugar.com/food/Sargento-Issues-Cheese-Recall-Due-Listeria-Contamination-43152455