With 2019 behind us, we can look back on the year as a whole and examine the state of recalls in the food industry. The numbers paint a picture of the food industry's need to focus its attention in 2020 and beyond. Though recalls are inevitable, there are many opportunities to reduce the frequency in which they can occur.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) confirmed a total of 337 issued recalls in 2019. The FDA issued 212, and the USDA FSIS issued 125. The following is a breakdown of the top recall categories in 2019.
The major contributor to recalls in the food industry last year were undeclared allergens. Sadly, undeclared allergens have taken the top spot for the past five years in a row. In total, undeclared allergens accounted for more than half, 52%, of all recalled foods. Milk led the list with 49 recalls, followed by tree nuts (24), eggs (21), soy (15), and sulfites (13). Both wheat and peanuts were also contributors.
A close second was more than 50 food products recalled due to contamination by foreign materials. Almost half (23) were caused by the presence of plastic found in beef and frozen foods. The second most prevalent foreign material found in food was metal (14). Other common materials were rubber (7), glass (2), bone (1), and wood (1).
Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli
A total of sixty food products were recalled due to listeria contamination. Many of these were linked to frozen produce, ready to consume deli products, and eggs. Salmonella was the root cause of 24 recalls, all either relating to baby spinach or pet foods.
When you add up the different strains of E. coli, a total of 21 food recalls occurred in 2019.
E. coli O26 caused nine recalls of flour.
E. coli O157:H7 caused five recalls of beef and lettuce.
E. coli O103 caused four recalls of beef, bison, and sprouts.
E. coli O121 caused one recall of bison.
Two other E. coli recalls caused recalls for deli products but were not identified by a specific strain.
Reducing Recalls in 2020 and Beyond
Here are three approaches food companies can take to reduce the chance of a recall:
1 - Correctly Label Allergens
If you make a product with an allergen in it, you need to make sure that it is declared on the label and declared accurately. The number one reason for the mislabeling of allergens is the wrong package or the incorrect label on a product. While there are a variety of reasons why the wrong package or label is applied, the most common is that packages for similar products made with different allergens tend to look very familiar. Workers can easily grab the wrong packaging from inventory to support a production run. Though this is a careless mistake, it can be extremely costly.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind for your allergen control programs:
Confirm the correct label is put on the line for rolls of printed film at both the beginning and end of the roll.
Create a transparency/acetate (i.e., transparent sheet of film) with the correct ingredient statement to confirm ingredient statements on the packaging for finished products and raw materials upon receipt.
When adding an allergen to a formula that did not previously contain it, the packaging or labels used for the old formula must be disposed of or otherwise made unusable
2 - Environmental Pathogen Control
To help control pathogens, conduct environmental monitoring at a consistent frequency for food contact and non-food contact sites. Create a baseline to generate continued monitoring data of the facility environment. This helps identify microbial growth areas, which could contribute to Listeria monocytogenes contamination in wet environments or Salmonella contamination in dry environments.
Additional best practices for a clean environment include:
Separate raw products from cooked/RTE (ready-to-eat) products
Control temperature and moisture levels
Implement pest controls
Choose equipment that can be easily cleaned
3 - Establish an Approved Supplier Program
For food manufacturers, the safety of finished goods depends not only upon the ingredients themselves but also the suppliers used throughout the food supply chain. Having a properly managed supplier program can help to ensure quality and safety measures. It also encourages great working relationships between manufacturers and suppliers, and who doesn't want that?
One key component of having an outstanding supplier program is the benefit of a well-built and well-maintained supplier approval process. Not to mention, supplier verification in the U.S. is a big part of the Preventative Controls required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
When it comes down to it, your reputation is on the line should something fall through the cracks. Ensuring approved procedures and processes are followed anytime a new ingredient or supplier is considered will significantly help mitigate the risks involved.
It isn't reasonable to expect the food industry to eliminate recalls, but if every manufacturer does their part, we can make a tremendous impact. Take the first step with TraceGains and read our eBook, "9 Things Your Allergen Control Program is Missing" here.