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To recall or withdraw: 7 facts every manufacturer must know

Feb 13, 2020 by Mark Dingley

What is one of the worst things that can happen in product manufacturing? Discovering an issue within your line that has affected a whole batch of your products… and those products have already left your facility and hit the store shelves. What now?

You’re faced with two options, a recall or a withdrawal. But what is the difference? Issue a recall notification when it should actually be a product withdrawal, and you can find yourself thousands of dollars out of pocket for media notices and other recall costs for no good reason. Alternatively, if it’s a recall and you treat it as though it is a withdrawal, the ramifications could come in the form of legal action.

Understanding the difference between a recall and a withdrawal means you’re capable of quickly and correctly handling the situation, saving time, money and stress.

We’ve put together this guide to help you identify the key differences between a “product recall” and a “product withdrawal” – differences every manufacturer and brand owner must know.

product recall

1. What is the difference between a product recall and withdrawal?

A product recall is done to remove products from distribution, sale or consumption that will present a significant health or safety threat due to a defect or contamination, at either trade or consumer level. Recalling a food product can also happen due to reports or complaints from manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, government or consumers, or if the business itself has run internal tests and audits.

A product withdrawal, on the other hand, refers to the removal of a product from the supply chain – but not due to health and safety reasons.

For instance, if a product has been labelled with the incorrect weight, the manufacturer may choose to withdraw it. However, if it has been labelled with the wrong ingredients, then this would require a recall. Manufacturers can also choose to withdraw a product as a precaution, whilst waiting for further investigation of a potential risk to public health. Then, if a risk is found, the product must be recalled.


2. Is a ‘voluntary product recall’ the same as a ‘product withdrawal’?

Though they are similar in that they are both voluntary, they are quite different in practice. A recall typically involves a manufacturer completely removing an unsafe or defective product from the market – including calling out to customers to return already purchased items. When a company chooses to withdraw their products, they can simply stop selling them for a period of time – even those products already on the market and in use by consumers.

If you’re still feeling confused, you’re not the only one. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) no longer uses the term ‘voluntary recall’ as it created confusion for retailers and customers alike.


3. Which industries can conduct recalls and withdrawals?

Recalls can be applied to any product – from food and beverages to toys and even cars! Withdrawals, however, are primarily associated only with food and beverages.


4. What causes a product to be recalled or withdrawn in Australia?

According to FSANZ, each month, around five recalls occur in Australia. Approximately one third of these have been caused by microbiological issues, another third due to labelling issues, and the final third are the result of physical or chemical contamination.

When it comes to labelling recalls, 90% are due to undeclared allergens – most commonly, peanuts, milk, gluten and eggs. When the issue is the result of physical contamination, the foreign matter is often metal, plastic or glass.


5. What are the legal requirements for recalls and withdrawals?

In the event of a recall, your company is legally required to communicate all information to the state and territory government, and to agencies and industry groups. The business is then responsible for notifying the public of the recall. FSANZ will help food businesses to recall unsafe foods throughout Australia and must be notified as soon as the decision to take recall action is made.

In contrast, if a company has decided to withdraw a product from the market, no legal requirements need to be met and authorities don’t need to be notified.


6. Are written procedures for recalls and withdrawals required?

Though they aren’t required, they are definitely recommended. Regardless of the reliability of your manufacturing processes, a formal recall plan is a must for ensuring your customers’ safety and your brand’s reputation. Indeed, many major retailers stipulate that their suppliers (you) must have separate written procedures to identify the difference between a withdrawal and recall, and how both will be handled.

7. Is different technology needed to avoid and manage recalls and withdrawals?

The good news – no! With advanced inspection systems that can check, detect and respond quickly to any issues, you can reduce and avoid recalls and withdrawals on your production line. Be sure to include vision inspection, checkweigh, metal detection and x-ray inspection technologies. For instance, with a camera and computer, your machine vision systems will automatically conduct appearance, character and defect inspections, all without any need for human intervention!

By cutting out the risk of human error, you can greatly reduce the risk that an unfit or faulty product will leave your plant. With this technology, you can check barcodes, labels, use-by dates, product formation and more! The best part of these systems is that you will be immediately notified of an issue, allowing you to fix it before an entire batch is produced or leaves your facility.


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If the unthinkable happens in your manufacturing process and you’re left with a product that isn’t fit for sale, use this guide for insight into the next steps. If you’re still unsure whether a recall or withdrawal is required, we suggest contacting the government authorities in your home state for advice.