Reasons for recalls include non-compliance with a company’s own standard operating procedures as well as with good agricultural practices. Failure to maintain food manufacturing facilities and equipment also leads to recalled products.

Other issues include weakness in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), knowledge of the product and knowledge of the supply chain.

Contaminants run the gamut of items folks don’t want to see in their food. FDA citations from January, 2009, through September, 2010, included pests in food areas, sanitation problems in food preparation areas, faulty facility and equipment maintenance and cleaning and sanitation failures.

“Management must be committed to food safety,” Prince says. “You cannot delegate your responsibility to regulatory and customs inspections.”

He says recalls are extremely costly. Recent recalls cost companies from around $50 million to more than $100 million. “That does not include litigation, restoring the business, lost profit, lost jobs and damage to the brand,” he says.

Recent polls indicate some consumers will not buy certain products following a recall. Some will not buy the recalled product from the company that recalled it and some say they will never buy any product from that company again.

To avoid economic losses, produce companies must change with a changing demand and needs of consumers. Consumers want different products and many customers are older and more subject to illness, Prince says. Food borne illnesses are dangerous. Around 45 percent of Salmonella cases are hospitalized. For Listeria, hospitalization rate is above 90 percent with a 25 percent fatality rate.

DNA technology also makes identification of specific contaminants more reliable. “We can identify what part of the country a contaminant came from,” Prince says. With that information, investigators may track the product to its origin.

Better identification, he says, will help prevent outbreaks or at least minimize severity. Recalls now occur on the back side of the contamination peak. Better testing may move recalls to the front side and prevent illnesses.

“Now, little problems can be identified,” he says.

The key for produce companies and producers is “back to basics,” Prince says. “Follow good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices. Know the product and processes and maintain facilities and equipment.

“Don’t take food safety for granted,” he says. “We can’t tolerate complacency in food safety.”