Jeff Brechler, food safety director for J&D Produce, Edinburg, Texas, has lived through a product recall and says any mock recall a company conducts to prepare for the real thing falls far short of reality.

Practice is a good thing, he says, “but in a real recall everything hits at once. It can be overwhelming, but we did handle it.”

Richard Hill, attorney and counsel to J&D Produce, says the company was hit with a recall “just before Christmas, Dec. 22, and then we got another Dec. 23.  We had to deal with it beginning Dec. 26.”

“Notification is extremely important,” Brechler says. “The product was tested on Dec. 13. We were notified Dec. 22 and 23 and did a voluntary recall.” Within 15 minutes of sending out the recall notice, Brechler received a response.

“We got an e-mail from a customer who reported the product was already out of the system. The quicker we get testing information to the shipper and packer, the better off we are. We want to get the product out of the pipeline as soon as possible.”

He expressed concern that with any recall the first response is to blame the grower. “The default goes to the field. I think if more research is conducted closer to the discovery point, and then if they work back from there, we get better solutions.”

Hill says they didn’t get detailed information on the contamination until late February or March and had to use a Freedom of Information request to get it then.

“We need to close the loop between FOB and the store shelf,” Brechler says. “A lot can occur throughout the supply chain — from transportation to the back room of a store. It’s a complex system, and we need to identify each step instead of defaulting to the farm.”

He says products have changed to the point that shippers, packers and growers “are colliding with processors. Products that used to be canned are now juiced, so they are now ‘ready to eat.’ It’s a different way to do things.”

Hill says they “still have no idea where the contamination came from — but we learned from the experience and made some improvements.”