With all of the various incidents of late concerning supply chain disruption and risk, it is somewhat important for risk-related professionals to consider the hidden timeline of risk.  What I mean by this is that a risk situation may have already occurred before mitigation teams actually get involved.  To provide some concrete examples, I did some research into the recent peanut butter and peanut products recalls that involved hundreds of different food-related supply chains.

 First, take a look at the following timeline graph provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

 Source: U.S. CDC

 You will note that the actual occurrences of reported sicknesses actually occurred as far back as October of 2008.  It wasn’t until early January of 2009 that various state and federal government officials were able to triangulate the 430 reported sicknesses and 5 deaths to peanut products being produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) facility in Georgia. On January 10, the first product recalls began, followed by numerous cascading recalls as the PCA products were traced among various other food-related supply chains.

The takeaway is that risk management groups need to consider the entire timeline of risk exposure. There was at least three to four months, if not longer, exposure of potentially contaminated product in various supply chains, before formal product recall actions were initiated.  It wasn’t until late April or early May until the number of cases of sickness began to decline, as products were removed from various supply chains.  The total timeline of this incident thus equates to roughly nine months, if not longer.

Are there ways to gain more visibility and intelligence during the hidden periods? Probably so. But the real question lies with who, how and at what cost.  

Should regulatory agencies be relied on for early-warning visibility? Can advanced technology in information retrieval and analytics play a more meaningful role?  Is there a justifiable ROI for early-warning tools?

These are all open questions that risk professionally should have on their radar screens, I’d be interested in seeing some commentary on this topic.

Share your observations or views in the Comments section of this posting.

 Bob Ferrari