From a supply chain disruption perspective, this week has proven to be a rather concerning one for food related supply chains within the United States. And, there may well be added implications in the weeks to come.

Two developments have dominated business and general media; a widespread outbreak of a strain of bird flu that is currently spreading across upper U.S. Midwest states, and a listeria outbreak that has forced a well-known branded producer to suspend sales of its entire product line-up.

Avian Influenza Outbreak

An Iowa chicken farm raising upwards of 3 million chickens is the latest to suffer the effects of what is being described as sharp escalation of bird flu that, according to one report, is rattling the U.S. poultry industry. Iowa is reportedly the largest producing state for egg production. The latest outbreak reported yesterday brings the estimated total number of chickens and turkeys affected by avian bird flu to nearly 8 million.

The largest two turkey producers, Butterball and Hormel Foods have each reported significant supply chain challenges as outbreaks occurring in Minnesota and Wisconsin are where turkeys are predominantly raised.

To mitigate the further spread of the virus, farmers must destroy all birds confirmed to have the virus. The Governor of Wisconsin declared a state of emergency earlier this week authorizing state officials to issue quarantine directives related to feed and poultry.

The states impacted thus far include Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. No human cases of avian influenza have been detected and U.S. health officials indicate the current outbreak poses no human health risk. None the less, consumers are obviously rattled and concerned by the news. Farmers and meat processors are on high alert and are taking measures to monitor stocks as well as visitors to farms.

Listeria Related Product Recall

The other important development concerns Texas based Blue Bell Creameries which on Monday, widened  a series of voluntary recalls to now include all of its branded ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks branded products distributed among 23 states and various international locations.  The recall was prompted after samples of Blue Bell Ice Cream recallchocolate chip cookie dough ice cream tested positive for the potentially deadly disease, listeria. Thus far, health officials have traced 8 reported illnesses amounting to three deaths which have been linked to contaminated ice cream, but active investigations continue. According to an FDA advisory and a Blue Bell press release, the illness was tracked by health officials to a Blue Bell production line in Texas, and later to another production line in Oklahoma. Consumers are warned not to eat the recall products and throw away or return any purchased product.

Blue Bell itself has taken relatively swift action by actively removing products from retailers and other food service facilities it serves. A statement from Blue Bell’s CEO Paul Kruse apologizes to consumers along with a firm commitment to fix the problem. Blue Bell is implementing a “test and hold” process for all products made at all of its manufacturing facilities, meaning that all products will be tested first and held for release to the market only after the tests show they are safe. Other actions include daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, expanded testing and additional employee training.

As is the usual for these types of recalls, the recall news spreads fast and wide with the amplification of the Internet and social media.  At this writing, we performed a Google search of the terms “Blue Bell listeria’ which yielded over 2000 web postings thus far. From our tracking of previous high visibility product recalls, there will likely be more short-term impact to the brand before this situation is resolved.

Supply Chain Matters applauds Blue Bell for taking such prompt and far reaching actions. Not many consumer packaged goods companies would recall the entire product line.

Bob Ferrari