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In the wake of the discovery of E. coli contamination of Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough and subsequent recall of the product, Paul Bakus, the general manager of the Nestlé USA Baking Group, circulated a letter to retailers yesterday updating them on the situation.

Excerpts:

• “While we’ve just conducted one of the most significant product recalls in Nestlé history, I believe it will be remembered not for its size or scope but instead as the best decision a responsible food company could make on behalf of its consumers.

“As you know, we initiated this voluntary recall less than 24 hours after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informed us of the investigation, because the health and safety of our consumers is our primary concern. It’s the reason we immediately offered our full cooperation to the FDA. It’s the reason we recalled 300,000 cases of product. It’s the reason we removed from sale all varieties, all sizes and all production codes of our refrigerated cookie dough products.”

• “…my colleagues at Nestlé have committed themselves to nearly round-the-clock activities to bring resolution to this issue. In a little over three weeks, we’ve worked with teams of Nestlé microbiologists and FDA investigators to test our facility, our production equipment, ingredients, processes and finished product. We’ve dismantled our production lines for thorough inspection, conducted over 1000 tests on equipment, ingredients and environment, and carefully reviewed our quality and food safety procedures.

“Over the July 4th weekend, we put the plant back together again while new ingredients began to arrive in Danville. These new ingredients were sampled and tested by our experts at the Nestlé Quality Assurance Center, following exactly the same protocols in use at the FDA. On Tuesday, July 7, we began a controlled start-up of our Danville operations. The standards for this extended testing protocol have been reviewed by the FDA and leading experts in the realm of food safety. The tests are designed to provide all of us with the assurance needed to re-enter the marketplace with Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough.

“On Thursday, July 9, the FDA closed its inspection of our Danville facility after days of intensive analysis and testing and concluded that their investigators found no evidence of E.coli O157:H7 in our facility or on our production equipment.”

• “So, will consumers buy our products again? We’re encouraged by the response we’ve received from our Nestlé Toll House consumers, who are among some of the most loyal in the entire Nestlé franchise. We’ve talked with them in focus groups and as they called our 800#.

“Our ongoing research tells us that consumer confidence remains very strong. In fact, many tell us they are anxious to have our products return to your stores. They appear to be telling you that as well, as we observe category sales dropping 30% since our products were removed from sale. This information builds our confidence in believing that our Nestlé Toll House business will rebound. We’ll help this along, of course. We’re finalizing relaunch plans this week and we’ll soon announce that our ‘New Batch’ of products will be available in time for baking season.”

• “We plan to resume full production this week, with new ingredients now inventoried and new testing protocols in place … We’ll begin to build inventory this week and expect to ship the first phase with our top five products on August 3 … A second phase with the majority of our remaining SKUs will ship later in that month … If all goes according to plan, the “New Batch” of Nestlé refrigerated cookie dough products will be back on shelves in mid-August … Consumers will be directed to look for the special “New Batch” label, also in Nestlé blue, which will appear on all new production cookie dough items.”

• “We’re also exploring the creation of an education program that will target tween’ and teen girls, to provide more information about why raw refrigerated cookie dough should not be consumed.”
KC's View:
Nestlé will have some hurdles to get over when the product goes back into the stores, but I can tell you this. There hasn’t been a week since the recall that my 15-year-old daughter has not asked me when she’ll be able to buy Toll House Cookie Dough again. So, that’s a good thing for Nestlé, because I’d guess that she’s not alone.

That said, I think we’re going to have educate her a bit about eating raw refrigerated cookie dough. Because I’m fairly sure that this is something she’s been doing. (Though as teenaged girls go, I wonder where “eating refrigerated cookie dough” sits on the “risky behaviors” scale?)