Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

The question: How do you make sure what you’re selling hasn’t been recalled?

STORE: Small natural foods store in the Rocky Mountain region

Store: If it’s a [Food and Drug Administration] recall, they notify us via email. If it’s a quality issue with a company, they also send emails, and we immediately pull the product off the shelf and quarantine it.

NFM: How do you know what to pull?

Store: Recalled products are traced to a specific factory. Affected items are then narrowed to lot numbers and dates. We receive those numbers, and that’s what we pull.

NFM: How do I know that a product recalled yesterday has been pulled from your shelves by today?

Store: The companies notify all retailers selling that product, and the information goes out pretty quickly. It depends on how responsible the store is, but I’d say the odds of finding a recalled product on our shelves are very slim.

Comment: Patrick Pilz, advisor for the Colorado-based Traceability Institute and founder of food-erp.com, a food-consulting service

I’m impressed that the employee knew the FDA’s importance in the recall process. He seemed to understand how critical communication with regulatory bodies is for retailers to be able to perform effective recalls. Three things, however, could have improved the scenario. 

1. The FDA only oversees about 80 percent of the food supply. The other 20 percent is governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most stores should track recalls in both places.

2. Email is not a reliable communication tool for critical food-safety information. The FDA and USDA both provide RSS [Internet] feeds that retailers can subscribe to for up-to-the-minute information. 

3. If the store has a loyalty card program, it can track shoppers who have purchased a recalled item and, hopefully, notify them before it’s consumed.