The number of food recalls in Australia climbed back above 100 in 2020 according to data published by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Figures show there were 109 recalls this past year compared to 87 in 2019 and 100 in 2018.

Almost half of the 2020 total was due to undeclared allergens, with 27 because of microbial contamination and 11 due to foreign matter.

Most of the undeclared allergen recalls were due to a customer complaint. Other reasons included routine testing by the government or by the company.

FSANZ has identified five root causes of allergen-related recalls. They are a​ccidental cross contamination either of a raw ingredient or during the final production process; lack of skills and knowledge to fulfil labelling requirements; packaging errors; supplier verification issues or unknown when the business couldn’t find what caused the issue or FSANZ didn’t get enough information.

Half of the 43 post allergen recall reports in 2020 were due to packaging errors.

Reported corrective actions for undeclared allergen recalls from mid-2016 to 2020 were mostly altering the product label, training staff, amended processing or handling procedures and improved communication.

There are two levels of food recall. A trade recall is when the food has not been available for direct purchase by the public, such as food sold to wholesalers and caterers. A consumer level recall is when the food has been available for retail sale.

Recall trends from 2011 to 2020
Based on an analysis of annual recall statistics for the past 10 years, most food recalls were because of undeclared allergens and microbial contamination.

Recalls for allergens, microbiological and chemical or contaminants show an increasing trend while those for foreign matter are declining.

The most common microbes were Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli. Salmonella related recalls increased in 2020 because of multiple events associated with lettuce products.

Meat products, dairy products and mixed and/or processed foods were the main groups recalled because of Listeria contamination. Eggs and fruits, vegetables and herbs were the top recalled categories for Salmonella and dairy products are more commonly recalled because of concerns with process hygiene, indicated through E. coli testing.

The most common undeclared allergens were milk, multiple allergens and peanut. The main food type associated with recalls because of allergens was mixed and/or processed food. This includes snacks, custard powders and frozen meals. The second most common was confectionery followed by breads and bakery products.

Other recalls in this period were for biotoxin which includes paralytic shellfish toxin, hydrocyanic acid, histamine, aflatoxin and ciguatera and chemical and other contaminants such as a cleaning or sanitizing agent and heavy metals.

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