Undeclared allergens and microbial contamination were responsible for the majority of recalls in Australia this past year.

Undeclared allergens caused 32 of the 87 recalls in 2019 while 30 were due to microbial contamination. In 2018, 46 recalls were because of allergens and 20 due to microbial contamination out of 100.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) collects data on Australian food recalls so trends can be identified as well as common problems in the industry.

Recalls are classified by FSANZ under microbial contamination, labelling, foreign matter, chemical/other contaminants, undeclared allergen, biotoxin and other.

Undeclared allergen and microbial recalls up
Between January 2010 and December 2019, FSANZ coordinated 707 recalls. The average per year for the last 10 years is 71.

The type mostly associated with a recall is mixed and/or processed food but this is likely due to the range in this category, including most long-life packaged food and manufactured items with multiple ingredients. Breads and bakery products, including biscuits, cakes and pastries, is the second largest type associated with recalls.

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For the last 10 years, most recalls have been due to undeclared allergens with 283 or 40 percent of all recalls during this period, and microbial contamination at 181 or 26 percent of all recalls. Recalls due to undeclared allergens continue to rise, however microbial ones are also increasing. Foreign matter recalls are decreasing.

Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli are most commonly associated with microbial food recalls. Meat, dairy and mixed and/or processed foods are the main items recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

There was an increase in Salmonella related recalls in 2019 due to multiple alerts for Salmonella Enteritidis. Recalls for Listeria decreased from 74 to 66 in the 10 year period.

A range of foods are recalled due to Salmonella spp. contamination. Eggs and fruits, vegetables and herbs were the most common categories. Fruits, vegetables and herbs recalled were mainly lettuce, sprouts, rockmelon (cantaloupe), fresh parsley and dried herbs.

Dairy products are more commonly recalled due to concerns with process hygiene, indicated through E. coli testing, than other categories. Other products recalled for E. coli include fresh sprouts, salads and mixed and/or processed foods.

Other reasons for recalls
During the last decade, undeclared milk has been the most common allergen related recall, making up 30 percent of all such recalls. Multiple allergens is the second most common type, accounting for 18 percent. Fourteen percent contained peanut as an undeclared allergen.

The most common food type recalled due to undeclared allergens is mixed and/or processed food, accounting for 30 percent of all such recalls. This includes snack foods, custard powders and frozen meals. Confectionery was second with 14 percent and breads and bakery products third at 12 percent on the list.

Between 2010 and 2019, there were 101 recalls due to foreign matter. The most common types found were metal, plastic and glass with only a few due to wood or rubber.

Recalls due to biotoxins ranged over the past 10 years between one and 15 per year. The total number of recalls in this period was 41. Paralytic shellfish toxin found in oysters and mussels accounted for 63 percent of foods recalled. Next is hydrocyanic acid, a naturally occurring cyanide in tapioca chips and apricot kernels, with 17 percent of recalls. Histamine, aflatoxin, and ciguatera also featured in this category.

The number of recalls due to chemical and other contaminants between January 2010 and December 2019 was 20. Other contaminants and cleaning and sanitizing agent contamination made up 35 percent and 30 percent of recalls while 15 percent were due to heavy metals.

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