Update: Pandemic effect on recalls varies internationally

As an update to our ongoing monitoring of recall data during the pandemic, we are seeing UK recall numbers returning to normal levels in May, but US & EU numbers are still very low. It appears that Australian recalls have stayed fairly consistent with previous years throughout the pandemic period. Please see our observations on each authorities reported recall numbers below (the full data is available at the foot of the article):

FSIS USDA – The monthly recall numbers reported by USDA for February, March, April and May are the four lowest in the past 41 months.

FDA – Fewer recalls in May than April; lowest monthly number of recalls since January 2019

UK FSA – 12 recalls in May, this is a more typical monthly number and suggests any pandemic effect is passing

EU RASFF – The number of food recalls reported in April and May by the EU RASFF system were the two lowest monthly figures in the past 41 months

Product Safety Australia – Food – 8 recalls in May, this is a typical monthly number.  Australia may not have had any pandemic effect on recall numbers.

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: