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The General Mills Cheerios recall and your supply chain

Recall of nearly two million boxes of Cheerios reveals increasing complexity of supply chains.

Supply chain professionals everywhere are no doubt wincing about the recent recall of nearly two million boxes of Cheerios by General Mills -- turns out they weren't gluten-free after all.

From the Washington Post:

Jim Murphy, senior vice president of the company's cereal division, said he was "embarrassed and truly sorry" by an incident that allowed wheat flour to get introduced into the gluten-free oat flour system at a production facility in Lodi, Calif.

The "undeclared allergen" could cause adverse health effects for those with wheat allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

The Lodi facility lost rail access for a time, forcing General Mills to load the flour onto trucks for delivery. As a result of "purely human error," wheat flour ended up getting intermingled with the oat flour, according to the Post.

Could It Have Been Avoided?

"One of the big things in supply chain that vendors and service providers are trying to figure out is how to do better track and trace," says Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Guy Courtin.

"That might not necessarily have avoided what happened at General Mills, but what it would have done is warned them sooner and help them rectify the problem sooner," he adds. "All it takes is a missed order on one truck and all of a sudden you've ruined everything you thought you had set up."

The Bottom Line

General Mills' Cheerios mishap provides a call to action for supply-chain pros. Examine your track-and-trace systems for weaknesses and look for ways to improve them, whether through IoT initiatives or better inspections checking processes, Courtin says.

Incidents like this one "just go to show that our supply chains are getting increasingly complex, increasingly strained by time constraints -- people want things faster -- you just need better checks and balances along the way to make sure these things don't happen," Courtin says.

Another tip for supply-chain pros: "Make sure your mindset is to be more cognizant of this stuff. Make it more of a priority."

The stakes vary according to different industries, Courtin notes. "If you're a food supplier and you screw something up, you might go out of business." But in pharmaceuticals, "if you screw up some of the supply chain there, you go to jail."

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