Product recalls – is there a “pandemic effect”?

As an update to our article on 15th April, we have now included the USDA FSIS product recalls.  This shows the most dramatic change, with no recalls between 8th February and 10th April 2020.  This is very unusual.  A similar pattern is not seen in the US FDA, UK, EU RASFF and Australian recall numbers.  See below for the data and some possible reasons for increased or decreased recall numbers during the pandemic. 
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 requirements
Reasons why there may be less 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
The data below shows recall numbers for 2017 – 2020 (1st Jan to 22nd April) from USFDA, USDA, UK, EU RASFF and Australia.  We want to see whether there is a “pandemic effect” and establish a base line so we can monitor this as the year goes on. 

USDA:

There is a very dramatic decline in recall numbers with zero over a nine week period.  We will continue to monitor and explore the possible reason for this.

US FDA

Recall events in April seem low compared to 2019 and definitely low compared to 2017 and 2018.  The situation will become clearer as we complete the data for April and go into May.

UK FSA

The recall numbers for the UK are down in April compared with any of the previous three years.  We will see if this is a trend or not as April ends and we go into May.

RASFF

The April 2020 recall numbers are substantially down on the same period in any of the past three years.  Even factoring in that April 2020 is not yet complete, these numbers are looking low.  We will see if this is a one-off or if this possible trend continues into May 2020 and beyond.

Australia

There were fewer recalls in April 2020 than April 2019, but comparable to the April 2018 and April 2017 figures.  It is worth noting that the numbers in February 2020 have been significantly affected by a single event relating to undeclared peanuts in pesto (more details here). Therefore, excluding that event, the numbers are in line with previous years, so it doesn’t appear that there has been an impact from the pandemic on recall numbers.

 

Summary

Despite some unusual recall numbers from USDA and possibly RASFF, it is important to collect more data before drawing firm conclusions about a definitive “pandemic effect”.  What we do know is that food manufacturers and even enforcement authorities are under increased and unique stresses.  As some of the pandemic restrictions have only been implemented for a few weeks in many countries, some issues may not have yet surfaced.  Therefore, we will continue to monitor the recall numbers around the world and report back on our findings.

If you need assistance with the challenges of coronavirus visit our dedicated page here to find out how we can help. If you are in need of help with product recall plans, training or simulation exercises to ensure you are recall ready should the worst happen during this difficult time, please go here to find out more.

In these difficult times, don’t forget the basics!

Get in touch on contact@rqa-group.com or call us on +44 (0)118 935 7242