Food recalls increased for the sixth year in a row in 2021, according to the Finnish Food Agency (Ruokavirasto).

The amount of alerts passed 300 for the first time and were mainly because of microbiological contamination, allergens and pesticide residues. The 309 recall total was 42 more than in 2020.

A rise in recalls doesn’t mean food is becoming more unsafe, said the Finnish Food Agency. Factors such as increased consumer awareness, more risk-based controls by regulators and better checks by companies are some of the reasons behind the increase.

Ethylene oxide impact
Almost a quarter of recalls this past year were because of ethylene oxide in a variety of different foods. This problem started in late 2020 and has continued into 2022.

Microbiological concerns such as Salmonella, Listeria and other bacteria caused 49 recalls, which is up 9 percent compared to the previous year. Salmonella was behind 26 recalls in products including fresh herbs and eggs while Listeria in items such as cheese caused five recalls.

Because of allergen errors, 29 recalls were made covering 13 different ingredients compared to 38 recalls in 2020. Labeling errors such as the wrong date or missing Finnish information prompted 25 recalls.

Pesticide residues were responsible for 33 recalls of fruits, vegetables or other foodstuffs of plant origin. In many cases, the legal limits were only slightly exceeded so products didn’t pose an acute health risk to consumers. Oranges were recalled six times, involving Egyptian oranges on five occasions.

Seventeen recalls were because of unapproved novel foods. This mostly involved food supplements but also conventional foods such as beverages on five occasions. Ten recalls were because of additives not allowed in food or found at too high a level.

Excluding ethylene oxide cases, 38 percent of recalled products came from another EU country. About 20 percent were Finnish and 42 percent were from non-EU countries. Including ethylene oxide notices, in 54 percent of recalls the product was from outside the EU.

Forty of the 104 recalls reported to Finland through the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) involved ethylene oxide.

Latest Switzerland figures
Meanwhile, Switzerland has revealed the number of recalls and public warnings issued in 2020.

The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) published 28 public warnings and 49 recalls for food. Warnings were most often because of pesticide residues, pathogenic microorganisms or allergens. Recalls were mainly because of pesticide residues, foreign bodies or mycotoxins.

It was the first time pesticide residues were the most common reason for warnings and recalls. This was driven by ethylene oxide-related findings. There were 21 warnings and 32 recalls in 2019.

Fifteen of the warnings were because of pesticide residues with all but one being ethylene oxide. Eleven were because of potential microbial contamination, including seven for Listeria.

Eight of 12 recalls were because of ethylene oxide in nut products, seeds and cereal-based products.

Foreign bodies were found in various product categories.

At the beginning of 2020, Swiss authorities were informed about norovirus in oysters and mussels from France. Eight other EU countries received mussels from affected French production sites. In Switzerland, illnesses occurred following consumption of these products.

A total of 241 RASFF notifications concerned Switzerland and 62 were issued by the country.

For the 241 notifications, almost a third related to pesticide residues and 27 were because of microbial contamination. Of notices raised by Switzerland, 15 were because of mycotoxins and pesticide residues caused eight. Fifteen products from Switzerland were the subject of a RASFF post. The most frequent hazard was microbial contamination with four notifications.

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