Undeclared allergens accounted for almost half of Australian food recalls in 2021, according to FSANZ data.

Figures from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) show 38 of the 80 recalls were because of allergens. Twenty were prompted by a consumer complaint and eight by routine government testing.

The root cause for allergen recalls was mainly packaging errors, followed by supplier verification issues and accidental cross-contamination.

Overall, recalls fell to 80 from 109 in 2020. Microbial contamination caused 19 recalls in 2021 and five were because of foreign matter such as plastic or metal. Listeria monocytogenes reports increased in 2021 because of multiple recalls associated with ham and pâté.

All four recalls in 2021 related to chemical and other contaminants were because of ethylene oxide.

“Over time broader regulatory oversight, improved self-monitoring by food businesses and greater consumer vigilance have helped to strengthen problem detection. Continued advancements in food technology, analytical testing and traceability are also expected to influence the number of food recalls,” according to FSANZ.

There are two types of recall — consumer and trade. 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 recall is when the food has been sold at retail.

Trends over time
FSANZ also produces an analysis of annual food recall statistics for the past 10 years.

Between 2012 and 2021 most food recalls were because of undeclared allergens and microbial contamination. Recalls for undeclared allergens, microbial contamination and chemical/contaminant show an increasing trend while those for foreign matter seem to be going down.

There were 335 food recalls because of undeclared allergens. The most common were milk, multiple allergens and peanut. The top food type associated with such recalls was mixed and/or processed food such as snack foods, custard powders and frozen meals. Second was confectionery, followed by breads and bakery products.

Microbial contamination caused 201 recalls. The most common microbes were Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli. The top food type associated with these recalls was dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese. Second was fruit, vegetables and herbs, followed by meat and meat products.

Listeria monocytogenes was mainly associated with recalls for the meat and meat products, dairy products and mixed and/or processed food groups. A range of foods were recalled because of Salmonella contamination including lettuce, sprouts and rockmelon, and egg and egg products. Dairy products were commonly recalled because of E. coli as well as fresh sprouts, fermented sausages and prawns.

A total of 38 recalls were because of biotoxins, with the most common being paralytic shellfish toxin. There were 92 recalls because of foreign body contamination such as plastic, metal and glass.

Other reasons for recalls included contamination with a cleaning or sanitizing agent, sulfur dioxide, quinine and high pesticide levels.

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