While conducting research for my story “Total Recall: Food Safety Precautions Increase Recalls,” I came across some surprising stats about allergen-related food recalls.
“In 2011, the leading cause for food recalls was related to allergens. This is a first, out of all the years I have been tracking recalls, for this to be the leading cause,” said Gale Prince, founder of SAGE Food Safety Consultants. Prince has over 40 years of industry experience and is known as the “dean of product recalls.”
According to an analysis of recalls listed on the Food and Drug Administration website by ExpertRECALL, a recall assistance firm, undeclared allergens were the leading cause of recalls for eight straight quarters ending in June 2012. In the second quarter of 2012, 40% of food recalls were allergen-related.
Just looking at the FDA notices for the past two months, Kroger Co., Wegmans Food Markets, Publix Super Markets, Hannaford Supermarkets and Whole Foods Market all issued voluntary recalls linked to allergens, mostly for undeclared milk, soy or nuts. That doesn’t include the numerous suppliers who also recalled products due to an allergen issue.
However, the recent spike seems unlikely to be a lasting trend.
“Current data indicates in 2012 the leading reason for food recalls will shift back to microbiological contamination,” said Prince.
That was certainly the case for the third quarter of this year, during which time ExpertRECALL found allergens accounted for just 18% of recalls.
The more alarming find: total food recalls were up 250% over the previous quarter, averaging four a day. The culprits this time were largely salmonella and Listeria.