Recalls During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There is obviously a lot of focus on handling the issues that the coronavirus pandemic is creating. However, this doesn’t mean that the usual food safety and quality challenges aren’t still there to trip up food manufacturers. In fact, with resources stretched, both within the manufacturer and their suppliers, and perhaps supply chain issues necessitating a change in suppliers, is the risk of a recall even higher? We decided to evaluate the situation and look at what the recall data can tell us about whether there is an increase or decrease in recalls internationally. 
What reasons might there be for an increase, or decrease, in 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

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
We decided to take a look at recall numbers for the first 3 months of this year across UK, Europe, USA, and Australia to see what the figures tell us about any impact so far and to establish a base line so we can compare as the year goes on. 

United Kingdom Food Standards Agency (FSA)

As you can see the recall numbers for the UK are slightly down on the same period of 2019, so no impact seen here so far,

Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)

Again, no sign of the pandemic causing an increase in recalls so far, in fact they are down on 2019 and 2018.

US FDA

In the US, we can see an increase on 2019, but recall events in January of that year were very low, and so taking that into account and comparing with 2017 and 2018, it seems there is still a downward trend on recall events despite coronavirus issues.

Product Safety Australia

At first glance, there is a noticeable increase in recall numbers in Australia, which could be an impact of coronavirus. However, the numbers in February 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 again, it doesn’t appear that there has been an impact from the pandemic on recall numbers.

Summary

From the recall numbers we have collated from across several global regions, it appears that so far the difficult manufacturing conditions associated with the coronavirus pandemic have not had an impact. However, as some of the restrictions have only been implemented in the last few weeks in many countries, these issues may not surface immediately and therefore, we will keep an eye on the figures on a monthly basis and report back on our findings.

In the meantime if you need any 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 or get in touch on contact@rqa-group.com or call us on +44 (0)118 935 7242