The number of food recalls in Finland increased for the fifth year in a row in 2020.

According to data collected by the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto), food was withdrawn from the market 267 times this past year compared to 200 occasions in 2019.

Microbiological contamination and ethylene oxide in sesame seeds both caused 17 percent of the total followed by allergens and pesticide residues.

The total was elevated because of recalls due to ethylene oxide residues found in products that contained Indian sesame seeds. This led to 45 recalls and has continued into 2021. However, excluding these cases, withdrawals in Finland would still have increased by 11 percent compared to the previous year.

Ethylene oxide contamination is an EU-wide issue causing thousands of recalls and has also spread to other products such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.

Pathogens, allergens and pesticides
Bacteria and other microbiological problems in food caused 12.5 percent more withdrawals than a year earlier with 45 in 2020. Salmonella was found in 14 foods, mostly meat imported from Europe. In seven cases, the withdrawal was because of Listeria.

Incorrect labels on food packaging, packaging intended for another product, or an undeclared allergen ingredient caused 38 recalls this past year. Fourteen of those were because of milk allergen concerns. Such products can be donated to charity or returned for sale by the company if labels are corrected.

Withdrawals because of pesticide residues increased significantly from 2019. In fruits, vegetables or other foods of plant origin, the need for action was identified 36 times. In many cases, limit values were only slightly exceeded so there was no acute consumer risk from the products, according to officials.

Labeling errors such as a wrong dates or missing Finnish language caused 16 recalls. Food contact material withdrawals caused the same number.

Reasons for more recalls
There were 16 recalls because of unapproved novel foods. This mostly involved food supplements but also products such as beverages. Additive errors resulted in 15 recalls. Either the food contained an additive that is not permitted in it or the amount exceeded the maximum allowed level.

The Finnish Food Safety Authority said a rise in recalls doesn’t automatically mean more products are unsafe. Increased consumer vigilance, more regulatory risk-based controls and better self-monitoring from companies may have played a role in the increase.

Of all recalls, excluding ethylene oxide in sesame seeds, 35 percent came from another EU country. About 18 percent were Finnish and 36 percent were from non-EU countries.

Many cases were reported to Finland through the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). Of those 92 recalls, 27 were related to sesame seeds. A company notified the authorities of a recall on 41 occasions in 2020. Finnish customs checks led to 38 recalls this past year with 21 due to pesticide residue findings.

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