Food recalls are on the rise, and it’s consumers who are acting as product watchdogs and making complaints when issues arise.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released data showing nearly half of 2018’s 100 recalls were due to undeclared allergens – which can be a life or death risk for people with allergies.
In the past few years there has been a steady increase in undeclared allergen recalls: from 33 in 2016 and 34 in 2017 to 46 in 2018. Customer complaints are triggering recalls, and detection through testing by the producer has also increased, while recalls prompted by government testing has declined.
“The fact that allergen-related recalls are being driven by consumers is very concerning,” says Stephen Elms, Gallagher National Head of Food Production Insurance. “For coeliacs and people who are severely allergic to nuts, for example, accidentally consuming allergens can be have serious consequences.”
FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Mark Booth says the allergen recall trend shows that food businesses in Australia need to be aware of Food Standards Code mandatory allergen labelling requirements.
The list of potential allergens that must be declared includes
- tree nuts
- sesame seeds
- soy products
Food containing royal bee jelly, 10+ milligrams of sulphites per kilogram of food and cereals containing gluten also requires warning labels.
Booth says the FSANZ has identified four key causes of allergen-related recalls which are, in order, packaging errors, accidental cross contamination, lack of skills and knowledge of labelling requirements, and supplier verification.
Corrective actions include
- staff training
- improved communications
- new or improved equipment
- amended processing or handling procedures
- identifying critical control points
- improving manufacturing processes
- improving hygiene practices.
Elms says that even with strict protocols in place accidents or errors can happen. “This report highlights that it is absolutely essential for food producers to have product recall insurance,” he says. “It protects businesses from the costs and losses of having to have an item pulled from the shelves.”