Insurance Responds To Rising Costs of Food Recalls

You may have read that the Justice Department is warning food manufacturers that they could face criminal and civil penalties if they poison their customers with contaminated food.

Recent high profile food recalls, such as the one at Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries and another at Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, have drawn attention to this issue once again.

Now a new report by Swiss Re finds that the number of food recalls per year in the United States has almost doubled since 2002, while the costs are also rising.

Half of all food recalls cost the affected companies more than $10 million each and losses of up to $100 million are possible, Swiss Re says. These figures exclude the reputational damage that may take years for a company to recover from.

Contaminated food also takes a financial toll on the public sector. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, costs for the U.S. public health system from hospitalized patients and lost wages in 2013 alone was $15.6 billion. In total, 8.9 million people fell ill from the 15 pathogens tracked, with over 50,000 hospitalized and 2,377 fatalities.

Demographic change is putting more sensitive consumer groups at risk. Ageing societies, an increase in allergies in the overall population and the fact that malnourishment is still prevalent in many countries are significant drivers of the increase in exposure, Swiss Re notes.

Which brings us to insurance.

A variety of insurance products are available to help companies protect their bottom line from this potentially catastrophic exposure.

Product recall/contaminated product insurance will cover the costs of recalling accidentally or maliciously contaminated food from the market, and impaired or mislabeled products that cause bodily injury, sickness, disease or death.

Product liability insurance also provides compensation of third party liability claims for bodily injury and property damage caused by an impaired product.

As Roland Friedli, risk engineer at Swiss Re and co-author of the report says:

Food recalls can be caused by something as simple as a labeling error on the packaging, or as complex as a microbial contamination somewhere along a vast globalized supply chain. Yet event a simple mistake can cost a food manufacturer millions in losses and even more in terms of reputation. Insurance and sound risk management are essential for keeping affected businesses afloat.”

Further information on product liability, recall and contamination insurance and is available from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) here.

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