Food Recalls: Why Do They Happen? | National Food Institute

Food recalls: why do they happen?

Food recalls are expensive for food manufacturers and damaging to their relationship with suppliers and supermarket buyers. In many cases, they are also a public relations disaster in terms of consumers and consumer confidence.

Australia has some of the strictest food manufacturing standards in the world however, manufacturing and supply chains are sometimes compromised and outbreaks or contamination occur.

Famous food recalls

Some famous food recalls that have occurred in the past 5 years in Australia include: Needles in Strawberries (2018), Salmonella in Eggs (2019), E.Coli in Milk (2020), Hepatitis A in Frozen Pomegranate (2015) and Frozen Vegetables Listeria (2018).

Interestingly enough, a quick look at the food recall database provided by FSANZ reveals a large proportion of recalls based on undeclared allergens. At the time of writing, six of the ten recall products on the first page of the database were due to undeclared allergens of substances like milk, sesame, soy, peanut and egg. 

What is an undeclared allergen?

What we mean by undeclared allergens, are substances that can cause allergic reactions that are present in a food, yet not named on packaging. This is very important to highlight – allergens need to be declared, as not to do so could endanger lives. 

Furthermore, it is not just microbiological activity that can be dangerous, undeclared allergens can be just as deadly and are also a common cause of recalls. 

What are food recalls? 

Food recalls are often undertaken by sellers of food, such as large supermarkets which have much to lose if consumers get sick or die as a result of food poisoning. They usually involve removing unsafe food from distribution, sale and consumption. 

Supermarkets, retailers, wholesalers and distributors must be able to quickly remove food from the marketplace to protect public health and safety. It’s really a question of limiting damage to customers and the company’s reputation. 

What is the FSANZ?

FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) is the statutory authority in the Australian Government Health portfolio which is responsible for developing food standards for Australia and New Zealand.

This is the body that coordinates and monitors food recalls in Australia

What are the various kinds of recalls? 

Recalls can be classified according to the problem with the food and typically include one or  a combination of the following: 

  • Undeclared allergen– due to incorrect labelling, incorrect packaging or contamination of the product by an allergen.
  • Microbial – contamination with pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites.
  • Foreign matter – contamination with material such as glass, metal or plastic objects.
  • Biotoxin – contamination with biological toxins such as histamine in fish and paralytic shellfish toxin in oysters.
  • Chemical/other contaminants – contamination with substances such as cleaning products, pesticides, machine oil, etc.
  • Packaging fault – where a fault in the food packaging results in contamination (presence of glass/metal etc) of the food or a potential choking hazard.

Today there is a proliferation of food safety standards and more awareness of food safety management requirements, yet sometimes food recalls are necessary.

How to minimise food recalls

The likelihood of food recalls however, can be mitigated by manufacturers completing regular vulnerability assessments, implementing a program of daily or weekly accuracy testing of microbial issues, as well as planning effectively. 

By using correct segregation controls (food storage and handling), improving checking procedures, developing proactive controls to support visual and mechanical inspections, and using detection equipment properly (for example, metal detectors) many recalls can be avoided. 

Prevention is better than a cure and stopping a food recall before products are released to market is sound business practice. It is just one way to implement risk management techniques to build a solid food processing business. 

What do I need to know? 

Professional and ongoing training involving staff and management, is also critical to food processors and manufacturers. You need to keep your accreditations up to date to protect your business. 

National Food Institute can help you develop your own food recall plan which can be used together with the Food Industry Recall Protocol (mandatory for Australian food manufacturers) to simulate mock recalls to ensure you are better prepared.

Food recalls are a frequent occurrence in Australia, as the famous food recalls listed above contest to. It just makes good business sense to know what to do in the event of a necessary recall. 

Of course, you do everything you can to avoid contamination in food at your facility, but even the most careful business must also prepare for the worst. 

If you’re not sure what to do when it comes to food recalls, contact us today at National Food Institute and we will help you meet your responsibilities to the general public. 

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