Product recalls – emerging signs of a “pandemic effect”

As an update to our article on 22nd April, we have now included officially reported product recalls for US, UK, EU and Australia to the end of April 2020 compared with monthly recall numbers going back to January 2017.  From this data we can see a clear emerging trend of declining recall numbers during the pandemic.

The total number of recalls reported in April by the EU RASFF system was the lowest monthly figure in the past 40 months.  The April figure for UK FSA was the lowest since December 2017.  The US FDA reported 27 recalls in April 2020, the second lowest monthly figure in the past 40 months.  The monthly recall numbers reported by USDA for February, March and April are the three lowest in the past 40 months.  The number of recalls reported in April in Australia was the 5th lowest in the past 40 months, but it is harder to see if this is significant because the absolute numbers are relatively low. 

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 numbers of on-site audits meaning less independent oversight
  4. New suppliers being used without passing all the usual quality requirement

See below for the data:

Note: the Australia numbers in February 2020 have been significantly affected by a single event relating to undeclared peanuts in pesto. Therefore, excluding that event, and because the numbers of recalls are low, it is too early to say if there is a pandemic effect with Australian food recalls