Food recalls in the United States reached an all-time high in 2016, caused mostly by a sharp spike in microbiological contaminations and a 20% increase in the incidence of product recalls due to metal shavings from processing equipment.
The 2016 increases continue a trend upward in Class I and II recalls over the past two years, according to SAGE Food Safety Consultants, LLC, in its annual survey of recalls in the U.S., Canada and the European Union.
“Food recalls are an unfortunate component of the overall food safety environment,” said Gale Prince, SAGE’s President. “The domestic food supply overall is the safest in the world, but contaminations and other adulterations of food products are a challenge for manufacturers, food service, retailers and even for consumers in their own kitchens.”
Highlights from the report:
- Mass recalls, which typically involve a contaminated ingredient or multiple brands of products produced by only one supplier, can have a broad impact to the food supply chain. Problems with Listeria monocytogenes caused a multi-state illness outbreak in late Spring. Several hundred frozen vegetable products under nearly 50 brands were recalled due to Listeria contamination from one supplier;
- Cross-contamination is a persistent risk, as was demonstrated in 2016 when an undeclared peanut allergen in a shipment of flour provoked the recall of dozens of baked goods;
- Risks associated with consuming raw food items appears to be a growing danger. In 2016, a number of brand name flours used to make cookie dough had to be taken off the market due to the presence of E.coli 0121 contamination in the flour, which can cause serious illness when consumers eat the resulting raw dough.
- Multi-state illness food-borne illness outbreaks have remained steady over the past several years, although the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 Americans become sick from foodborne illness every year.
On a more positive note, meat recalls in the U.S. declined modestly in 2016 after reaching a record high in the prior year.
Internationally, the SAGE report revealed slight variations in the causes of recalls from the U.S. experience. For example, recalls in Canada increased slightly in 2016 following a dramatic decline the previous year. In the EU, food “alerts” (i.e., recalls) increased modestly overall, the result of microbiological and chemical contaminations and a doubling in alerts from the presence of foreign material and unauthorized substances in food items. Fully 75% of the recalls were due to unauthorized substances in nutritional supplements in Europe.
The 2016 Food Safety Recall Report comes just as the the nation’s new food safety law is being implemented. The law, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), represents a dramatic shift in the Food and Drug Administration’s management of food-borne illnesses from after-the-fact assessments and penalties to preventive controls mandated for all food manufacturers, shippers and food importers.
“FSMA’s impact will not be fully known for several years, but as it is implemented by the food industry, we may see significant declines in Class I and II recalls over time,” Prince said. “From my experience in the food industry over the past 30 plus years, some food companies did not have an adequate risk management protocol in place or a comprehensive recall plan in the event of a contamination. FSMA addresses both issues, and places tremendous responsibilities on manufacturers to closely oversee their production processes to guard against contaminations and avoid costly recalls.”
Copies of the 2016 Food Safety Recall Report are available for download in PDF format for $99 at https://www.sagefoodsafety.com/recall-data-analysis-report. A printed copy is $125.