We have been tracking the recall numbers globally throughout the year, to monitor any impact the pandemic might have and reporting on these monthly. We have now taken a look at the total numbers for 2020 and it is clear that the pandemic had an effect in most regions, throughout different points in the year, although some have recovered to more normal numbers at the end of the year. However, it is very clear that the USDA FSIS numbers are significantly down on previous years, which must be a clear impact of the pandemic, and possibly highlights the importance of on-site inspections and audits.
Below you will see the graphs for each reporting authority and our summary of the year’s numbers. At the foot of the article you will see our possible reasons why the pandemic may have reduced recall numbers.
The clearest pandemic effect is on the USDA FSIS recalls, as you can see below the numbers are significantly down on previous years. This is potentially due to inspections being down due to the pandemic restrictions not allowing site access for inspectors and auditors.
The US FDA recall event numbers were normal in the first 3 months of the year, pre-pandemic, then noticeably dropped during April to July. Numbers started to return to more normal levels in August and September as it appeared the pandemic was slowing, but as the winter months hit and COVID cases started to climb again, the recall numbers again dropped. It could be argued looking at the graph that there was a downward trend in recall events anyway, however, we believe that the pandemic has increased this trend, as the drop was very noticeable as the pandemic really kicked in.
The UK FSA’s recall numbers showed a clear pandemic effect as the UK-wide lockdown came into force in late March. Then as COVID numbers eased in summer they began to return to normal, but again, as further lockdowns came in during November the recall numbers again noticeably dropped, showing lockdowns have an affect on recall numbers.
The EU RASFF recall numbers for Food for 2020 overall do not seem to be significantly affected by the pandemic, however, it appears that there was an effect on the numbers during the early to middle of the year, but numbers were significantly up in the latter part of the year. This could have been down to a lag in reporting of cases to the RASFF system by countries.
Product Safety Australia
The Food & Grocery recall numbers from Product Safety Australia seem to have been unaffected by the pandemic, with numbers fairly consistent throughout the year with previous years.
Reasons why there may be fewer recalls during the pandemic:
- Increased focus on hygiene in factories and society in general
- More difficult to investigate supply chain issues and to decide on recall action
- Consumers less likely to complain and food may not be identified as cause of illness
- Enforcement authorities have reduced inspection and monitoring capability
- A reduction in identifying food safety hazards through testing as laboratory capacity is reduced or diverted to COVID-19 testing
- A delay in reporting food-borne outbreaks