Cal Poly alumnus Chirag Narayanakere wants you to know when your food is recalled.
Frecure, founded by Narayanakere and Arizona State University alumnus Amit Tallapragada, is a free food recall information service that texts or emails subscribers with updates on food recalls in their area. When subscribers sign up through their website, they disclose their city and state so updates can be catered to the communities they live in.
The interest began when Tallapragada got food poisoning last May, and he said he was unsure what caused it. He found himself scrolling through endless pages of food recalls on the FDA website, yet his search resulted in no conclusions, he said.
An estimated 48 million people get sick annually from food-borne illnesses in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
According to a recent report from Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), food recalls are becoming more common. Using data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), PIRG has determined that there has been a 10 percent increase in overall recalls. Class 1 recalls are recalls that are most likely to result in a health hazard or death, and these types of recalls saw an 83 percent increase in the years 2013 to 2017.
In 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law, which gives the FDA stricter authority over the production of food as well as mandatory recall authority. This could be a contributing factor to the rise in recalls over the years.
This experience resonated with Tallapragada, and it led to the establishment of Frecure in January, he said.
As COVID-19 concerns grow, Narayanakere and Tallapragada said they want food service to provide relief for consumer’s health concerns.
Through their service, they have found recall trends of listeria, an infection that causes fever and diarrhea as well as common allergens not listed such as milk and nuts. These are health issues that Tallapragada said should not be an added concern for people while they are worrying about COVID-19.
“I know everyone’s in a work from home, shelter-in-place situation, so the last thing you want to do is just let something like some berries be the thing that puts you in the [emergency room],” Tallapragada said.
“I know everyone’s in a work from home, shelter-in-place situation, so the last thing you want to do is just let something like some berries be the thing that puts you in the [emergency room],” Tallapragada said. “Now, more than ever, is a time to be alert.”
Their first step was developing a program that could sift through all the information on the FDA website and pull what they needed.
After this was established, they focused on growing their audience.
Narayanakere’s experience of working with Mustang Consulting helped him know how to grow their business. Mustang Consulting is a student-run consulting group that works to advise clients for their business ventures. As a student, Narayanakere advised SLODOCO and Bolt About.
“Every little thing helped me,” Narayanakere said. “Now instead of giving advice, I’m actually implementing suggestions.”
Although other recall information sources exist already, none provide a service of notifying their subscribers based on recalls in their area. This is what sets Frecure apart from their competition.
As far as notifications for the public go, the FDA has a few mechanisms in place: an enforcement report, the Annual Report for the Reportable Food Registry and a widget.
The weekly enforcement report covers seven different categories: biologics, cosmetics, devices, drugs, food, tobacco and veterinary products. In this report, consumers have the ability to use a quick search option.
The Annual Report for the Reportable Food Registry is used as an early warning system for potential public health risks as well as a guide for priority inspections and risk points for certain commodities. The most recent report available is the Fifth Annual Report with data spanning from 2009 to 2014.
The widget compiles information from the FDA and USDA in one place. Everything is in one place, but there is a lot of information for the reader to sift through.
The main issue that Frecure is aimed to solve is the disorganization that the current sites present the recall information.
“If I look at the distribution pattern for eggs, the [report] could be like, ‘Oh we distributed eggs, you know in California, Arizona, and Nevada,’” Tallapragada said. “But then for another company, if they’re recalling tea, they could say, ‘We’re recalling our tea from this particular store in Texas, off Highway 5,’ like some random indicator.”
With a diversity in recalls and their locations, the program that Tallapragada developed for Frecure standardizes the information to identify specific locations and to inform subscribers that are from those areas.
Their plans for the future of their service is to work with local farms and distribution centers to act as the “middleman” between food products and customers to ensure safety, Tallapragada said.
They are considering working with distributors to put labels on food products that consumers can scan to quickly find out if their food is safe to consume and if there are recalls on their products.
As their service is provided only through text and email, Tallapragada said that they want to establish relationships with local food suppliers first before they develop a phone app.
The plan for the app is that customers can log the food they buy, so alerts can be tailored to specific products rather than products recalled in their general area.
Narayanakere said that once Frecure begins working with farmers, people can start inputting information about what they bought.
“Once we start working with the farmers, that information is going both ways,” Narayanakere said. “Instead of just the foods coming farm to table, we can connect the farmers with their actual end-users — which currently hasn’t been done before.”
Right now, they are focusing on expanding their users and creating partnerships with food suppliers and distribution centers.