Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Peanut Cluster

The expanding contaminated peanut butter recall has exposed one of the biggest weaknesses in the methodology currently used for pulling back suspect product. Manufacturers who have used a contaminated ingredient publish a list of product names, UPCs and often lot numbers. The consumer then checks to see whether they have the product in their pantry. Okay. But when the product is as ubiquitous as peanut butter and paste - that list can be long. In fact, the latest list here contains over 250 different products or date/lot codes to look through. It reads more like a lottery ticket list:

Double peanut Butter Chewy Soft Baked Cookies
Recalled date codes: 01Feb2009, 07Feb2009A, 14Feb2009B2, 17Feb2009B2, 16Mar2009A2, 22Mar2009A2, 12Apr2009A2, Apr 18 2009, 06May2009B2, 19May2009B2, 25May2009A2, 02Jun2009A2, 13Jun2009B2

Unfortunately, the prize is salmonella.

Is it reasonable to think that a consumer will go to their cupboard and refrigerator and compare all their groceries against this list? Indeed, many wouldn't even suspect they contained peanuts (such as "Indonesian Chicken with Coconut Rice").

An alternative approach - or at least a complementary approach - would be to have a code on the product that a consumer can enter into a website (or scan with a cell phone camera) and instantly get peace of mind whether that particular product is affected. Let a computer do the searching. Of course - that technology is already here.