Recalls Increasing as Pandemic Effect Passes – Except for USDA

We have been monitoring international product recall numbers throughout the pandemic and have seen a clear reduction in recall numbers in most territories. In several authorities, US (FDA), UK (FSA) and EU (RASFF) there were at least three months between March and July where the number of product recalls reported was considerably down on previous months. In those three cases, the numbers of officially reported recalls is now back up to the expected levels. A glaring exception is the USDA FSIS, who are still reporting the lowest number of monthly recalls seen in the past three years before the pandemic. Australia seems to have experienced no negative impact on food and grocery recall numbers throughout 2020. Please see our observations on each authorities reported recall numbers below as well as the data graphs.

We have discussed in previous “Pandemic Effect” news updates the reasons why there may be more or less recalls during the pandemic. What we have seen with the August data is that recall numbers are coming back to an approximation of normal (except for USDA). We will now be looking to see if there could be a risk that the reported recall numbers may increase beyond the normal. We actually think this is unlikely in the food sector.   We don’t expect there will be a lot of “missed” recalls that the authorities will now catch up on. It is much more likely that the more usual numbers will be maintained. This is unless there are major nationwide lockdowns which could reduce the numbers reported again. Of course, for a food manufacturer, one recall is a recall too many.

We will continue to monitor and report.

USDA FSIS – The monthly recall numbers reported by USDA continue to be well below average (4 in August). With only 23 recalls reported this year (Jan – Aug) compared to 91 in the same period in 2019, this shows a significant pandemic effect.


US FDA – Recall event numbers are up for the second month in a row and back to a more normal number of monthly recalls reported (40).


UK FSA – The UK FSA reported 13 recall alerts in August, a more usual monthly number. This is an increase on previous months where the three lowest monthly numbers since Dec 2017 were reported in April, June and July 2020.


EU RASFF – There was a decrease in the number of reported food alerts in August (239) compared with July (252). Even so, the number reported in August, 239, is a more usual monthly number, (although at the lower end).


Product Safety Australia – Australia’s food and grocery recall numbers seems to be relatively unaffected by the pandemic, and could end the year with the highest number of reported recalls ever.

Reasons why there may be fewer recalls during the pandemic:
  1. Increased focus on hygiene in factories and society in general
  2. More difficult to investigate supply chain issues and to decide on recall action
  3. Consumers less likely to complain and food may not be identified as cause of illness
  4. Enforcement authorities have reduced inspection and monitoring capability
  5. A reduction in identifying food safety hazards through testing as laboratory capacity is reduced or diverted to COVID-19 testing.
  6. A delay in reporting food-borne outbreaks
Reasons why there may be more recalls during the pandemic:
  1. Staff off sick putting extra strain on production
  2. Increased numbers of agency workers – may not be fully trained
  3. Reduced training in food safety and quality due to sickness or budget restrictions
  4. Reduced numbers of on-site audits meaning less independent oversight
  5. New suppliers being used without passing all the usual quality requirement