Restaurants Must Improve Data & Traceability to Improve Recalls

Restaurants Must Improve Data & Traceability to Improve Recalls
Roger Hancock and Matt Regusci

By Roger Hancock, CEO of Recall InfoLink & Matt Regusci, a Supply Chain Compliance Expert and FSMA Consultant

Are you aware that the quality of your restaurant’s data can have a direct impact on how well (or poorly) your company handles food recalls?

Many food businesses don’t understand the important connection between data, traceability, and recalls. Elevating your data quality will, in turn, improve your traceability, and recall readiness, helping you better protect food safety, consumer health, and your company’s reputation.

In the midst of seemingly non-stop recalls – which have reached a five-year high – consumers, industry groups, regulators, and other advocates are demanding immediate change. Something must be done to improve food safety, as listeria, Salmonella, E.coli, bacteria, foreign objects, undeclared allergens, etc. continue to contaminate our foods, causing products like cream cheese, cucumbers, ground beef, bottled Fiji water, and many more, to be recalled. We must improve the way recalls are handled, ensuring that potentially unsafe products are removed from the marketplace quickly, accurately, and completely.

Is Hope on the Horizon?

Many people have put considerable hope into the FDA’s new Food Traceability rule, FSMA 204, which aims to fast-track the identification and removal of contaminated foods from the marketplace. Ideally, once this is implemented, it will improve recalls and protect public health.

However, a few complications have arisen. First, there’s a possible deadline delay, meaning the rule may not go into effect in January 2026, as originally planned. Secondly, the compliance requirements appear ambiguous, causing concern that companies won’t follow them since they aren’t crystal clear. And third, since the industry lacks data standardization, it will be more challenging to execute and enforce the rule.

It’s concerning to think that these complications could cause food businesses to postpone efforts. This is unfortunate, since positive change is necessary now – regardless of the compliance deadline.

Food Businesses Aren’t Recall Ready

Many food businesses aren’t Recall Ready because:

  • They’re working independently. It’s ineffective for companies to prepare for (and practice) recalls on their own. During recalls, trading partners must work collaboratively, sharing data and coordinating processes to remove contaminated foods from the marketplace. Therefore, they must work together to plan for and practice recalls, as well. 
  • There’s no standardization. It’s hugely problematic that the industry lacks standardized supply chain traceability data, systems, and processes. When companies all use different approaches, it complicates recalls. The FDA’s new Food Traceability rule, FSMA 204, helps make the data identify products accurately, though it doesn’t touch the systems and processes necessary for supply chain interoperability. We can’t afford to wait another year or two (or more!) for the compliance deadline. Standardizing data will be critical to enabling traceability. Sharing data with interoperable systems and collaborative processes will make both traceability and recalls more effective, accurate, speedy, and thorough.
  • Supply chain visibility is limited. Since the food industry is still highly manual, it means many companies don’t have access to accurate, real-time data. Incomplete, outdated, and/or inaccurate data limits supply chain visibility and impedes smooth recalls. Tech solutions are an absolute game-changer for data management, food safety, traceability, and the recall process.

Traceability is Essential for Smoother, More Effective Recalls

A huge challenge for the food industry is being able to accurately trace food products across every step of their supply chain journeys – from harvesting to serving. Better traceability helps identify potentially contaminated foods to pull these products before they’re sold or served.

There have been non-stop instances of food recalls lately, and many audiences are demanding more transparency and traceability across the food industry. And the key ingredient in achieving this goal is to improve food companies’ data.

The industry can’t improve supply chain traceability – or recalls – without better data quality and management. This requires a coordinated, standardized effort from all supply chain partners, including producers, processors, distributors, restaurants and retailers. Each step in the supply chain must be properly and accurately documented. And product data must be stored in a way that allows it to be shared easily with all trading partners, when necessary.

In the event of a food breach – and subsequent recall – it’s easy to identify exactly what happened, which products were impacted, and where contaminated products traveled. This means quicker, more complete removal of contaminated products from restaurants, store shelves, and consumers’ homes.

How to Improve Data, Traceability, & Recalls

Improving data practices (and data quality) brings many significant advantages, including elevating traceability and “recall readiness” dramatically. The benefits of good data – including improved food safety, customer protection, consumer trust, etc. – are well worth the effort.

It’s in your restaurant’s best interests to:

  • Rely on standardized data, systems, and processes. When you have standardized systems and processes in place, it allows the entire supply chain to get accurate information immediately and take quick, decisive action to pull contaminated products. Good data shared machine-to-machine enables all trading partners to reach their collective goals of efficient action to remove products from the supply chain, protect customers and brands, and retain trust.
  • Improve data management. Elevating your company’s data practices will lead to better traceability and smoother recalls. Even though there’s no standardized data set, all food businesses should still collect, store, and provide standardized data for all their products, using resources like GS1. Sharing data with trading partners as a part of mock recalls will identify misalignment and other gaps. Carefully collect, store, maintain, clean, and share your data, ensuring that it’s comprehensive, consistent, usable, understandable, and actionable.
  • Use tech solutions. Many food businesses – including small, independent restaurants – still rely on manual systems, but tech solutions are critical to managing, storing, analyzing, and interpreting data. Tech platforms have transformed data and recall management, helping to ensure the accuracy and transparency of the data you use and share with supply chain partners. If your restaurant isn’t relying on tech tools yet, pivot from manual systems. It will be an absolute game-changer.
  • Be collaborative and cooperative. Working cooperatively with supply chain partners allows data to flow unimpeded. Use centralized information repositories to share, access, and update information with trading partners in real-time. Communicate openly and honestly with supply chain partners, regulatory bodies, and other key stakeholders.
  • Become Recall Ready. Ensure that your company – and your entire supply chain – becomes truly Recall Ready by using standardized data and processes and working collaboratively with trading partners and regulatory bodies. Communicate openly about data expectations, look for opportunities to integrate, and build interoperability into your processes. Conduct mock recalls with your trading partners to ensure everyone knows what data needs to be shared and so you can address any knowledge gaps.

Prioritize these actions now, and don’t wait for the new Food Traceability rule’s compliance deadline to act. Our industry can’t afford to wait until the 2026 (or later) deadline because food recalls are happening too frequently, putting public health at risk. Our industry needs positive change right away, so let’s work together to make necessary improvements immediately. Building a Recall Ready Community across your supply chain should be a hot priority for every food business, and it all starts with better data.

Roger Hancock, CEO of Recall InfoLink is one of the world’s foremost experts on recalls, with experience that spans the retail, tech, data, regulatory, and supply chain.

Recall InfoLink, makes recalls faster, easier, and more accurate across the supply chain to protect consumers and brands. As the only company focused entirely on recalls, Recall InfoLink’s solutions drive immediate action, streamline the recall process, and simplify compliance. Recall InfoLink helps brands become Recall Ready by standardizing data, collaborating with their supply chains, and practicing recall simulations.

Matt Regusci is a supply chain compliance expert and FSMA consultant who is dedicated to helping the food industry achieve, maintain, and benefit from improved food traceability procedures and systems that comply with the FDA Food Traceability Rule.