The Defense Commissary Agency has installed an automatic block at the register to help keep recalled food products from winding up in customers’ shopping bags.

Through a procedure called Universal Product Code “lockout,” DeCA can ensure recalled food products are not inadvertently sold to customers by preventing the products from being scanned at checkout, commissary officials said.

“We can now block an entire UPC at the register,” DeCA acting director Rick Page said in a news release. “We’ve closed that loop. A recalled product scanned at the register would prompt a flag indicating the item is not for sale so it will not ring up.”

The measure stems from a suggestion made to all retailers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Mike Auderer, the commissary store director at Yokota Air Base, Japan. It was activated at commissaries worldwide in early February.

When a product recall is announced, store personnel normally pull the affected items from the sales area. DeCA officials said the UPC lockout is a low-cost way to make sure those items aren’t sold.

The block can’t be used on a recall for a specific lot number or date, the release stated, although that capability could emerge in the future. If the product becomes safe to sell again, commissaries simply remove the lockout.

“Often, recalled products are only from a particular batch made on a particular date,” Auderer said. “Other products with the same UPC are wholesome.”

Three recalls in 2007 required removal of an entire UPC, according to the release. Recalled items enter medical-hold status and are marked, inventoried and monitored until they are either released for sale or removed and destroyed by vendor representatives.

Product recalls were big news last year, with several high-profile cases involving contaminated pet food, tons of potentially contaminated beef and many imported items deemed unsafe. According to the FDA Web site, the agency tracked almost 200 product recalls in 2007. Specific information on those product recalls is available at 2007.html.

Officials at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the Navy Exchange did not respond by deadline to questions about whether they also use a UPC lockout system for recalled products.

Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa M. Novak contributed to this story.

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