Number of Australian food recalls falls to lowest level since 2000

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 20th January 2009

The number of consumer level food recalls reached their lowest level for eight years in 2008 in a sign that manufacturers are continuing to improve the effectiveness of their food safety systems.

Food Safety - Protected Strawberries

There were a total of 43 consumer level recalls reported last year to food regulator FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand). An analysis of data published on the Federal Government’s ‘Product Recalls Australia’ site reveals that this compares favourably to recent years, with the number being a 12% decline compared to 2007 figures – when there were 49. The last time the number was below 43 was back in 2008, when there were just 24. Since then the numbers have ranged from the 43 last year up to a high of 70 in 2003.

Foreign matter was the major reason for a recall last year – usurping microbiological at the top of the causes list. In all, there were 15 cases of a foreign matter (e.g. plastic, metal) being found in a product, 12 ‘labelling’ issues – where companies fail to include a warning label of potential allergens, and 10 microbial issues (e.g. listeria, salmonella).

A similar evaluation of UK and US food recall data last week by consultants RSSL found that failing to label allergens in food was the primary reason for recalls/consumer alerts in both countries, contrasting with Australian figures. Figures for 2008 highlighted that approximately 50% of recalls in both countries were required because packaging failed to describe one or more of the allergens present. In the US, microbial contamination led to 33% of recalls, whereas in the UK, the figure was only 11% – and Australia 23%. On the other hand in the UK, nearly 20% of recalls were due to foreign bodies, whereas in the USA foreign bodies were implicated in less than 5% of the recalls. Comparing RSSL’s data to the Australian figures highlights a major difference, as 35% of Australian recalls were due to foreign matter.

In total, RSSL assessed 172 recall notices/incident alerts reported by the US agency websites, and 116 reported in the UK.

“These figures do not tell us everything about the quality and safety challenges that food manufacturers need to address, but it is interesting that allergen mislabelling is the stand-out statistic from both countries,” Karen Masters of RSSL, said. “It is also curious that the findings match so closely with respect to allergens because the figures are completely different for other causes.”

Despite the big scare concerning melamine during 2008, relatively few recalls were required, indicating that the monitoring and analysis of ingredients was largely successful in keeping melamine out of the food supply chain in the USA, UK and Australia.