In 2019 we applied the Never Events principle from the health care industry to food product recalls. Essentially, we identified a significant proportion of product recalls that should never happen. For example, where the product had been put in the wrong packaging or the incorrect label had been applied. These are cases where product recalls are required due to the risk of people with allergies consuming food with undeclared allergens. For example, a fish pie put in a chicken pie packaging. Those with allergies to fish may eat the pie not knowing it contains fish. In our 2019 article, we set out a 12 step approach to integrate the Never Event principle into the food business processes and culture to reduce the risk of Never Event recalls. We have been recording the Never Event recalls ever since and in August 2021 we published some “quick wins” to help food manufacturers make some easy changes to their process to reduce the short term recall risks.
We have now done a review of the recalls over the past 2 years that could be classified as Never Events. We specifically looked at the US FDA and the UK Food Standards Agency. The graph shows that food recalls reported by the UK FSA are around 50% of all recall alerts reported and increasing. In the US FDA the proportions are lower, typically 15 – 20% of recalls. However, it is worth noting that the US FDA does not always provide sufficient detail to determine the exact cause of the recall and so it is likely that the US FDA never events are higher than 20%. Even at 20% there is clearly much work to be done.