The number of food recalls rose slightly in Germany last year with more than 100 because of microbial contamination.

Federal states and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) published 267 food recalls in 2023. This is similar to the 258 recalls in 2022 but up from 236 in 2021.

On more than 100 occasions, microbiological contamination was the reason for the warning, when including all 308 product recalls. Salmonella was again the most common cause, with 35 mentions but Listeria and E. coli also featured.

Other reasons for alerts included exceeding regulatory limits, unauthorized ingredients, allergens and foreign bodies. Exceedance of limit values was listed in 54 recalls, unauthorized ingredients in 61 recalls, foreign bodies in 46 recalls, and allergens in 32 recalls.

The top food categories involved in warnings were herbs and spices, meat and poultry products, and milk and dairy products.

In January 2024, there were 13 food recalls with seven of these due to potential microbiological contamination.

The online recall portal used in Germany is to be updated by summer 2024 and a mobile app will be available for consumers.

“The consistently high number shows that companies in Germany are complying with their legal reporting obligations. They now see public recalls as part of responsible management that demonstrates trustworthiness,” said Dr. Andrea Luger, head of BVL’s food safety department.

E. coli in flour risk
Meanwhile, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has provided updated information on E. coli in flour. The agency assessed the associated risk in 2019 and published an opinion in January 2020.

In October 2023, discussions on the topic took place at the BfR with representatives from the science sector, government bodies, food safety authorities, and industry. Attendees discussed the introduction of STEC via the feces of wild ruminants in the field, through organic fertilization and during the processing of grain into flour in mills.

An assessment made at the first expert meeting in November 2021, that the majority of flour is used as intended and that no damage to consumer health is expected from STEC if the usual heating steps are followed, is still valid.

However, infections can occur when raw dough for baking or ready-made dough is consumed and when food prepared with flour is insufficiently heated.

STEC in buckwheat, maize, rice, and green spelt flour will be investigated through sampling as part of zoonosis monitoring in 2024.

BfR said some questions regarding STEC in flour are still unanswered, and there is a need for further development of methods and measures, particularly with regard to pathogen diagnostics and risk mitigation.

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