Foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were recalled 50 percent more in the fourth quarter last year and affected over 80 percent more units when compared with the previous period, according to the ExpertRECALL ™ Index.

The quarterly ExpertRECALL™ Index was released Tuesday, showing 2011 ended with a surge of food recalls led by undeclared allergens, which accounted for more than one in three food recalls during the quarter.   ExpertRECALL publishes the data from both FDA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission.  It plans to add USDA recall data in the near future.


Listeria was second only to allergens for causing recalls.  Listeria-contaminated cantaloupes, grown in Colorado on a single farm, were  responsible for the most deadly outbreak in a century in 2011.

The fourth quarter’s big spike in recalls could be causing “recall fatigue,” says Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of recalls at Stericycle ExpertRECALL, which publishes the index.  

“In this current environment, manufacturers and retailers must take extra care to ensure that consumers are receiving the right messages about recalls and that they are encouraged to respond appropriately,” he says.

Rozembajgier still thinks consumers focus on recalls.  “I don’t believe that there will ever be a time when consumers stop paying attention to safety,” he told Food Safety News.  “As consumers, our ears will always perk up when the media covers major recalls that result in illness or harm to people.”

“In our experience,” he said, “recall fatigue can be at its peak when several recalls of varying sizes occur at once.  During times like these, it can be easy for some consumers to miss the smallest recalls even when they might be the most relevant to them.”

During the final three months of 2011, FDA logged 176 food recalls by more than 150 companies, affecting nearly 70 million units of food products.  It marked the highest recall levels of the past four years, and represented an 80 percent increase over the third quarter.

In addition to representing a 50 percent over the previous quarter, the increase was 55 percent over the final period of 2010.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, 42 recalls affected customers throughout the United States.  Twenty-eight (28) affected both domestic and international customers, and two recalls impacted only consumers outside of the country.

Undeclared allergens, followed by Listeria, Salmonella, botulism and E. coli, were the cause of the greatest number of FDA-regulated foods.

“It’s impossible to say based on available data why there has been an increase in allergen-related recalls,” Rozembajgier added. “In monitoring the safety of our food, the FDA’s inspection and sampling can result in the discovery that allergens have been left off product labels.  However, in some cases, the issues are identified by companies who have been increasingly vigilant in the past few years in withdrawing products because of possible allergy issues, often erring on the side of caution.

The Lake Forest Park, IL-based Stericycle ExpertRECALL ™ manages consumer product, pharmaceutical, medical device, juvenile product, and food and beverage recalls for multiple companies.


Charts courtesy Stericycle ExpertRECALL ™