Recalls during the pandemic – EU RASFF records highest monthly recalls in 4 years

Since January we have been tracking product recall numbers to monitor what effect, if any, the pandemic is having on product recalls in the EU, USA and Australia.  Initially we saw a clear reduction in most international regions with most returning to pre-pandemic levels over time, except USDA FSIS.

In November, the EU RASFF system recorded the highest monthly number of recalls for the last 4 years. This did however include 196 separate alerts relating to products containing sesame seeds from India contaminated with ethylene oxide, a pesticide that is not authorised for use in the EU. This highlights how a contaminated minor ingredient can result in very large numbers of different products being recalled.

In the UK, there were fewer recall alerts in November than any month of the year except April and July according to the UK FSA.  Given the UK has been in lockdown for almost all of November, this supports the thinking that there is a pandemic effect and fewer recalls are reported when social restrictions are at their greatest.  We would expect the number of UK food recalls to increase again in December as lockdown ended on 2nd December.

Australia’s food and grocery sector recalls remain seemingly unaffected by the pandemic whilst the USDA FSIS continues to report the lowest number of monthly recalls seen in the past three years.

We will continue to monitor recall numbers to see how they are affected by the pandemic.

Please see the recall data below, along with some reasons why numbers may have been affected at the foot of the article:

Reasons why there may be fewer recalls during the pandemic:
  • Increased focus on hygiene in factories and society in general
  • More difficult to investigate supply chain issues and to decide on recall action
  • Consumers less likely to complain and food may not be identified as cause of illness
  • Enforcement authorities have reduced inspection and monitoring capability
  • A reduction in identifying food safety hazards through testing as laboratory capacity is reduced or diverted to COVID-19 testing
  • A delay in reporting food-borne outbreaks
Reasons why there may be more recalls during the pandemic:
  • Staff off sick putting extra strain on production
  • Increased numbers of agency workers – may not be fully trained
  • Reduced training in food safety and quality due to sickness or budget restrictions
  • Reduced numbers of on-site audits meaning less independent oversight
  • New suppliers being used without passing all the usual quality requirement
If you need assistance with product recall management click here to find out how we can help or get in touch on contact@rqa-group.com or +44(0)118 935 7242.