Five Ws: Avoiding the nightmare of a product recall

Eggs. Toy trucks. Spinach. Meds. And now walnuts.

Recalls — and not the good kind — are a daily reality within an interconnected, modern global economy. But for the unprepared business, a product recall can be a logistical and PR nightmare, costing significant capital, and precious hours of downtime as well as — perhaps most significantly — irreparable damage to delicately nurtured brand image.

Since consumer activist agencies and public awareness at large tend to be a few steps ahead of legislators and regulatory bodies on public safety concerns, it is imperative businesses stay a few steps ahead of the game. For companies that rely on contract manufacturers, this can be easily achieved with a comprehensive quality management system (QMS).

Some essential questions — often rendered complex by the size and scope of large corporations — can be resolved with straightforward answers if an electronic QMS has been put into place.

For example, an electronic QMS is capable of providing quality managers the answers to what are known as the ‘five Ws’ of product recalls:

  • What: In the event of a product recall, the fundamental reason for the recall will narrow-down investigative work and help quality managers build a list of questions and criteria to determine who in the supply chain is responsible for the defect or issue in question.
  • Who: A company that relies on contract manufacturers around the world must determine which supplier within its supply chain is associated with the defective or unsafe part or product.
  • Where: The “who” and “where” questions are intrinsically related, for once it is established who is responsible for the issue, it can be broadly determined where the issue arose. But it is also essential to isolate where exactly — specifically within the manufacturing line of the contract supplier, for example — the defect was caused.
  • When: Supply chains can be complex systems, but it is important to have the capacity to determine when a defect or issue arose within the system.
  • Why: The other ‘Ws’ of product recalls will help a quality manager determine why a defect or issue arose. Answering this question quickly and effectively will help a business develop an action plan to respond to the product recall.

Quality managers strive for the often elusive goal of perfection but must come to grips that even in the most highly monitored systems and well-oiled machines, somewhere, somehow — by the laws of probability and human fallibility — an issue will likely arise. This probability is mitigated, however, if an electronic QMS has been implemented in the place of archaic spreadsheet- or paper-based tracking and supply chain traceability systems.

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