Gross, What’s in That?

September 14, 2016

It was bound to happen. With a camera-equipped smartphone in the pocket or purse of nearly every American (not including tablets, computers and real point-and-shoot or DSLR cameras), we’re capable of capturing nearly every excruciating moment of our lives #Millennials.

Yep, I can see what you’re having for lunch today at that new local, hip restaurant, adjusted with a complementary filter to highlight the subtle variations in color and flavor, duh! Yeah, I’m guilty of this one, but more so with what I make at home and less what I enjoy dining out.

Therefore it should come as no surprise that with cameras everywhere, when an “out-of-the-norm” incident occurs, we instantly want to capture and share it the internet world. 

Enter challenges with supply chain production. I saw that eye-roll emoji just now, but hang in there with me for a few more paragraphs and you’ll be rewarded.

I started brainstorming this post the other day, after a second article I’d read involving a worm in produce entered my news feed. I recalled a similar article – both from the United Kingdom, but from two different grocery stores – last month. The earlier article involved a dead worm found in a wrapped cucumber purchased from a Tesco. Yesterday’s story featured a live worm in a head of lettuce acquired from a Sainsbury.

Cucumber Worm

In both cases, the buyers took to social media with their tongues firmly planted within their respective cheeks thus providing comical stories about the circumstances. Both worms were met with equal humor and phenomenal social media customer service from both companies.

I get it. Produce comes from the dirty outside world and bugs, worms, and insects are likely to make their way into the food supply from time to time. It’s even more probably with the growth (pun intended) of organic food and farm-to-table fresh produce co-ops. So a random bug appears not to have scared these two individuals, who shared their oft-exaggerated encounters online to the delight of many, while also getting a refund or a couple extras from the grocer.

Initially, I wanted to write about how awesome these company’s PR, social media, and customer service teams were for not only resolving the issue, but keeping the “fun” of the channel integrated. I mean, a funeral for a worm, or gaining, “12 stone,” from eating a single burger resulting in obese prostitution? Hilarious, right? Nicely done.

ASIDE: For my American friends, in the UK a “stone” is used as a reference of weight, commonly accepted at 14 lbs. per stone and generally in relation to the weights of people or large animals … get now why the reference is funny? Yeah, British humor can be dry and definitely lost without access to the historical UK urban dictionary.

Anyway, while both brands were fantastic with their responses on Facebook and should be commended and held up as examples of “what to DO in social media,” a new article popped up today. In this case, a shopper from ALDI reports that a box of store-brand (private label) vanilla wafers had a spider baked into one of the cookies.

Let’s stop for a minute and think of how mindless many of us are at eating snacks, especially chips and cookies. I’m completely guilty and can easily see myself reaching into the box, grabbing a handful of cookies, and snacking while watching TV or working on my computer without a single glance of each bite. The fact this shopper stopped and saw the arachnid, likely because of prepping as a snack for a child, is somewhat of a blessing, albeit creepy nonetheless.

Two things from today’s report stuck out to me. First, the ALDI customer apparently reached out directly to the company who offered a $5 gift card and a note that the product’s manufacturer would be in touch … which as of my initial reading of the article, apparently hadn’t happened. The second was the little-known-fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has many allowances on what’s “acceptable” within processed and/or produced food.

Most individuals outside the food processing industries are unaware that it’s nearly impossible to avoid some amount of foreign particles to enter our food supply. That’s why these guidelines exist. And to be fair to manufacturers, many of whom operate as contractors of the brands for whom they produce, if they didn’t have rigorous controls in place to drastically reduce foreign products, they would lose their contracts or go out of business. It’s to their benefit to keep as clean of processing and production as possible.

However, it’s still unnerving that the federal government will allow up to 225 insect fragments per 225 grams of pasta, or up to 4.5 rodent airs for 225 grams in, “6 or more subsamples,” … gross.

Fact. We’re eating this stuff all the time and just aren’t aware, and that’s okay. Food properly stored and cooked/prepared is safe to eat, otherwise our civilization would have been eradicated decades ago. These guidelines actually exist to help reduce such incidents and to keep our food supply safe and stable. Again, it’s impossible for a completely clean production 100 percent of the time, but 99.999 percent is acceptable and achievable. Production of scale is absolutely applied here, hence the “subsample” reference within the guidelines.

I’m going to ignore the fact that the three incidents included here are European-based (ALDI started in Germany, but has operations local here in the US) as a distinction between US food regulations and what’s been socially reported here and across the pond. It’s irrelevant. The European Union (EU) can be stricter in their food production processing requirements, and lax in many others, when compared to the US; which was part of the post-Brexit confusion earlier this year.

Here’s what we can take away:

1. Consumers are connected now, more than ever; a trend only likely to increase with the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). While incidents may not be increasing in frequency, the frequency with which they are shared and can, “go viral,” will increase. Leading us to …

2. Brands, and especially manufacturers, aren’t exempt from social public scrutiny. Teams should be prepared for any possible story – positive, negative or even untrue – to surface at any time through nearly any global social challenge. No small feat. But when a report is proven wrong, the brand’s engagement and response can be a huge asset. Even Snopes can’t confirm or deny the reported mouse in a bottle of Dr. Pepper earlier this year. That didn’t stop the one-hit wonder of the man who reported the likely untrue incident, but Dr. Pepper did okay with their PR of the situation. Brands/companies should have a contingency communication plan in place for every likely, however improbable, scenario.

3. While we as consumers will likely encounter the same amount of rodent droppings or hair, we should remain vigilant. Brands and suppliers need to know when there are issues with a product. That’s how recalls can originate from multiple reports of problems or concerns (see Takata exploding airbags or Samsung Galaxy Note 7 exploding battery recalls). Toy manufacturers have encountered this scrutiny for years, and rightly so.

4. If and when you do have an issue, consider having fun with reporting the situation. That’s not to say make fun of a life threatening or dangerous situation (spontaneous exploding phones anyone?), but reaching out directly to the news or traditional media may put a brand on the defensive and could get you less in the long run. The ALDI spider equaled $5 gift card; lettuce worm resulted in £10 Netflix card.

Who do you think wins the battle of the bugs?

Post Tags:

ALDI, Cucumber Worm, FDA, Food Safetgy, Food Supply, Lettuce Worm, Sainsbury, Spider Cookie, Tesco,