Editor’s note: Today Food Safety News takes a look back at the most significant recalls in Europe and Asia in 2018. As in past years, our year-end coverage is not merely a list of individual stories by individual writers. Generally, significant events are the other way around. Multiple stories by multiple writers are usually involved in our recall coverage, especially when illnesses or multiple companies are involved. It takes a newsroom — not solo work — to give readers the information they have come to expect from us.
Recalls were made for a variety of reasons and affected a mixture of products and countries in 2018. In this round-up we take a look at two major events with one just over and one just under affecting 100 countries. There is a re-occurring Salmonella problem for one company and the re-occurring problem of alfalfa sprouts in another country.
All sorts pathogens and foreign objects can get into products. A recall is not always undertaken because the product is contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites. The problem can be the packaging, as some firms in this round-up found out. Any 2018 recall highlights would not be complete without including allergens, a topic which gained more attention this year and is likely to continue to hit the headlines in 2019.
This 12-recalls-of-Christmas style article is not meant to be exhaustive, sorted by quantity of product affected, contaminant risk, or company involved. Instead, it is a glimpse into some of the reasons for recalls that occurred in 2018 and what we may see again next year.
1. Listeria in frozen vegetables produced by Greenyard
A recall of all frozen vegetable items produced since August 2016 at a Hungarian plant owned by Greenyard looks like it was the biggest in terms of quantity for 2018. Implicated products were distributed to 116 countries and some have a shelf-life until mid-2020. This recall involved the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), which is managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).
An outbreak of Listeria that began in 2015 had sickened 54 people in five European countries and Australia with 10 connected deaths before it was linked to the Baja factory and traced to one of the freezing tunnels.
Greenyard restarted production at the site in September following negative tests for Listeria after a shutdown for cleaning.
2. Salmonella in Lactalis infant formula
While the outbreak of Salmonella agona linked to Lactalis infant formula was identified in December 2017 much of the fallout happened this year. Production was suspended late last year at the Craon site.
Recalls covered the implicated infant formula as well as all other products made by Lactalis since February 2017. Recalled formula was distributed to more than 80 countries and it was estimated 12 million boxes of formula were affected. Another case that involved INFOSAN.
Lactalis was allowed to restart sales of infant formula made at Craon in September this year.
The outbreak sickened 38 babies in France, two in Spain and one in Greece last year. It was the same strain that was behind 141 illnesses in 2005 when the Craon production site was owned by Célia. The origin of contamination was traced to tower number one which was closed.
3. Company recalls eggs for Salmonella on three occasions
Eifrisch-Vermarktung GmbH & Co. KG issued three recalls of eggs due to Salmonella in the space of six months.
The first recall for the German company was in June, the second in August and the third in December.
Eggs were sold nationwide at retailers including Aldi Süd, Real, Aldi Nord, Lidl, Netto, Kaufland, Edeka and Penny. No related illnesses were reported in any of the incidents by authorities.
4. Australian recalls of alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts were recalled twice this year in Australia with both instances linked to Salmonella outbreaks.
Adelaide business Sunshine Sprouts issued a recall in September after several people became ill with Salmonella Oranienburg. Products were sold at Coles, Foodland, IGA and greengrocers. Eight cases were confirmed in the month up to early September, compared with eight for all of last year.
SA Sprouts, based in the same state, recalled products sold at Drakes Foodland, IGA and greengrocers in June. There were 21 confirmed cases of Salmonella havana including seven hospitalizations.
Only alfalfa and mixed sprout varieties containing alfalfa sprouts were affected. Mung bean sprouts, snow pea sprouts, or mixed varieties without alfalfa sprouts and Brussel sprouts were not impacted.
Alfalfa sprouts are not robust enough to withstand cooking temperatures and washing is not sufficient to remove Salmonella.
5. Mondelez plastic in chocolate
In February, Mondelez Australia Pty recalled Cadbury Caramilk sold at Coles, Woolworths, IGA’s and independent retailers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. The Cadbury Caramilk 190-gram chocolate block had best before Jan. 17, 2019, and Jan. 21, 2019. Some Cadbury Caramilk products were found to contain small, flexible pieces of food grade plastic due to a machinery fault during the manufacturing process. There were no reports of injury.
While this recall in itself is unlikely to have been one of the biggest this year, a recall for a company as well-known as Mondelez and for an issue as common as plastic foreign body contamination deserves a mention. Alerts in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal mentioned plastic contamination in about 50 notices this year.
6. Stella Artois and Heineken beer recalls
In April, Stella Artois recalled 33cl green bottles of beer due to concerns they contained glass fragments.
The bottles were produced by one of its suppliers and made up less than 0.08 percent of Stella Artois bottles sold annually in Belgium. Stella Artois is an ABInBev brand. The recall came after defects in the packaging were observed and a consumer complaint.
Nearly 50 countries were affected, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United States and United Kingdom according to the RASFF portal.
Alerts for glass contamination in the RASFF portal were less frequent than plastic this year with almost 40 notifications.
Stella Artois was not the only beer brand to have a recall in 2018 as Heineken discovered a problem with bottles in the Netherlands in February. The 24-count boxes of 25cl bottles with screw caps were at risk of the bottle breaking. The maximum number of boxes potentially affected was 400.
7. AG Barr manufacturing fault
AG Barr recalled 750ml glass bottles in May because of reports that the bottle caps pop off unexpectedly, which could cause injury. A fault was identified in how some caps were applied. IRN-BRU and different flavors of Barr drinks had best before dates through the middle of 2019. The quality of the drink is not affected.
Consumers were advised to carefully release the pressure from the bottle by pointing away from the body at arm’s length as if opening a bottle of sparkling wine and return it to the store or contact AG Barr.
8. Illy coffee packaging defective
Illy recalled 250-gram (8.8-ounce) cans of whole bean coffee in medium, dark roast and decaf varieties because they were missing an air valve on the bottom of the canisters. The product came from Italy and the first recall was made in the Netherlands. Ultimately, 30 other countries were affected, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the U.S. and UK, according to the RASFF portal.
The coffee bean can lids can detach suddenly with force upon opening when missing an air valve on the bottom of the can, posing an injury hazard. The best by date of 10/2019, 11/2019, or 12/2019 is printed on the bottom of the can. The packaging flaw does not affect coffee quality.
9. Quorn recalls gluten free products due to gluten
Quorn recalled packs of 2 Gluten Free Burgers in the UK because they contained gluten in July. The product was a possible health risk for anyone with coeliac disease or an allergy or intolerance to gluten. It was sold at UK supermarkets Waitrose and Morrisons and has a best-before date of Nov. 30, 2019.
Coeliac UK said almost 6,500 packs of frozen Quorn Gluten Free Burgers 227 gram were affected. Quorn burgers containing gluten were packed with gluten-free labeling because of human error.
Data from the RASFF portal showed Quorn was not the only company to fall foul of gluten in gluten free products with this being the reason for about 20 recalls this year.
10. Pringles recalled in Denmark
A lack of Danish allergen labelling led to a recall of Pringles crisps (potato chips) in Denmark in April this year.
Nordisk Kellogg ApS recalled the lot of Salt and Vinegar Pringles 165-gram packages from Germany with 2019 best before dates. The product was marked in English, German, French, Dutch and other languages.
The European Union has set 14 food ingredients that must be declared as allergens but a look at the RASFF portal shows this language error happened on a couple of occasions in 2018.
11. Aflatoxins in PepsiCo peanuts
In September, PepsiCo recalled a brand of peanuts because of higher than permitted levels of aflatoxin B1. Duyvis Peanuts 200-gram with dates July 13 and 20, 2019 came from a production site in the Netherlands.
PepsiCo said it put in place additional controls with the raw material supplier to prevent a repeat.
Aflatoxin as a reason for alerts in the RASFF portal is extremely regular with 24 in the first three weeks of December but most of these are border rejections, it is less common for a product to make it to market. Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin like ochratoxin, ergot alkaloids and patulin.
12. Plastic in chocolate letters
Finally, this month HEMA recalled milk chocolate letters candy because of plastic fragments.
The product came from the Netherlands and was shipped to Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and the U.K. All dates of the 160-gram pack sizes were involved. HEMA said the issue was caused by a production fault at a supplier.
While this might not quite be as seasonal as Ikea’s recall of Easter marshmallow candies from more than 30 countries in February because of a mouse infestation at the production site in Sweden, there is still time before the end of 2018.
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