The number of food recalls hit the three figure mark in 2018, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

There were 100 recalls last year, up from 69 in 2017, with 46 percent due to undeclared allergens and 20 percent because of microbial contamination. There were 33 undeclared allergen recalls in 2016, 34 in 2017 and 46 in 2018.

Mark Booth, FSANZ chief executive officer, said results demonstrate food businesses in Australia need to know the mandatory allergen labeling requirements in the Food Standards Code.

“FSANZ has identified four key causes of allergen-related recalls, including lack of skills and knowledge of labeling requirements, supplier verification, packaging errors and accidental cross contamination. Correct allergen labeling can mean the difference between life and death for people with food allergies, so it is vital that food businesses meet labeling requirements.”

Booth added FSANZ and enforcement agencies continue to work with food businesses to ensure they understand labeling requirements and their importance.

Recalls mainly after consumer complaints

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In May 2017, lupin was added to the list of allergens that must be declared. Food businesses had 12 months to meet mandatory allergen labeling requirements for any products containing it. The list includes peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Food containing the bee product royal jelly is required to have a warning statement, sulfites need to be declared on the label if added at 10 (or more) milligrams per kilogram of food and gluten-containing cereals must also be stated so people with coeliac disease and cereal allergies can identify the products.

In the last three years, customer complaints were the main method of detecting the need to recall followed by routine testing by the company and routine government testing. Detection by customer complaints and routine company testing has increased since 2016 and detection by government testing has decreased.

Packaging errors are the top cause of undeclared allergen recalls with accidental cross-contact, lack of skills and knowledge or supplier verification issues being other reasons.

Corrective actions include training staff, improved communication methods, altered product ingredients or label, changed suppliers, new/changed equipment, amended processing/handling procedures, identified new critical control points, improved manufacturing process (GMP’s) or hygiene practices (GHP’s).

U.K. recall guidance
Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has produced guidance to help businesses carry out food safety withdrawals and recalls.

The document explains what the law requires, how to comply as well as information on traceability systems, making a decision on doing a withdrawal or recall, roles and responsibilities and principles to effectively inform consumers of a food recall.

Under FSA terminology, a withdrawal is when unsafe food is removed from the supply chain, where it has not reached the consumer. A recall is when unsafe food is taken out of the supply chain and consumers are advised to take action such as returning or disposing of it.

Philip Randles, head of incidents and resilience at the FSA, said when food on the market is unsafe, businesses are required to withdraw or recall a product.

“This guidance and the associated tools have been created with food businesses in mind, to help them carry out their responsibilities with greater ease and effectiveness. We urge food businesses to download these tools, so they are equipped to carry out the necessary actions to make sure food is safe and what it says it is.”

The guidance (which can be found here) had input from Anaphylaxis Campaign, BRC Global Standards, British Retail Consortium, Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Campden BRI, Food and Drink Federation, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Nestlé, consumer group Which? and many others.

Ron McNaughton, head of Food Standards Scotland’s food crime and incidents unit, said: “It is our job to make sure people can trust the food they buy and eat, and we urge food businesses to use these tools to help them carry out the necessary steps to make sure food is safe and what it says it is.

“Identifying the cause of incidents as soon as possible will help to prevent future food incidents and outbreaks, and is a key priority for Food Standards Scotland.”

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Photo of Joe Whitworth Joe Whitworth

Joe Whitworth is a food and beverage trade journalist. Prior to reporting for Food Safety News, he worked for William Reed Business Media since 2012 as Editor of Food Quality News before becoming food safety editor for Food Navigator. Whitworth has moderated sessions at Food Ingredients Europe in 2015 and The Ingredients Show in 2018. Before joining William Reed, he worked on newspapers run by Fairfax Media in Australia. Whitworth graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).