According to the country’s food agency, allergens in food were the main reason for recalls in New Zealand in 2023.

Of 70 consumer-level recalls in 2023, 26 were due to allergens. Milk caused the most with 12, said New Zealand Food Safety.

Microbiological contamination led to 23 recalls, and 14 were due to physical contamination, such as glass, metal, and plastic.

Ten recalls were because of Salmonella Montevideo, and four because of Salmonella Livingstone. A dairy product was recalled because of the non-pathogenic Listeria seeligeri. One recall was because of the possible presence of Hepatitis A. Between June 2022 and July 2023, 39 cases of Hepatitis A were reported. The source of the outbreak was imported frozen berries.

Salmonella tahini incident
Mixed foods, such as meals, pies, pizzas, and snacks, were named in 18 recalls, meat and meat products in 12 recalls, and fruit and vegetables in 11 recalls.

The number of recalls is up from 2022, when 60 notices were published. In Australia, 87 recalls were issued in 2023.

New Zealand Food Safety supported businesses to conduct consumer-level recalls. In total, 48 recalls were for domestically produced foods and 22 for imported foods in 2023.

Salmonella in imported sesame seed-based products was the most significant food safety event of 2023, resulting in 14 recalls affecting 65 products. Recalls were initiated after Salmonella was detected during routine testing by a New Zealand business making tahini products.

“A complex investigation by our food compliance services team – involving product testing and tracing of ingredients through the domestic market – found the contamination was from tahini imported from a Turkish manufacturer,” said Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general.

“The team dug deeper, and subsequent online surveillance and scanning of international food safety issues also identified concerns about products from a manufacturer in Jordan. By the time all the sesame seed-based products were tracked down and removed from sale, we had supported 14 recalls affecting 65 products. And, most importantly, we had no confirmed reports of related illness.”

Raw milk example
Arbuckle said recalls are a sign that the food safety system is working to protect consumers.

“New Zealand’s food safety system has a strong track record of keeping people safe and – given the volumes of food being produced, manufactured, and imported – incidences of related illness remain rare,” he said.

“However, there are occasions when food safety issues occur, and that’s when we work quickly with food businesses to recall the affected product, removing it from the food supply chain and promoting public awareness. It’s important to note that the number of recalls is not an accurate indicator of the level of risk to consumers. Numbers depend on many factors, including regulatory changes, business and public awareness of food-related problems, and reporting of those problems.”

Another highlight from 2023 was the possible presence of Listeria and Campylobacter in raw milk, which led to three recalls. While there were no associated reports of Listeriosis, there were three related cases of Campylobacter infection.

Of the 70 recalls, 43 were due to businesses notifying New Zealand Food Safety of required recall action, and 16 were initiated as part of the agency’s surveillance work, existing investigations, or notifications from overseas government authorities.

In 2023, New Zealand sent 57 communications via the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) or to the INFOSAN Secretariat on 23 events or food safety issues. Thirteen of these were linked to biological hazards.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)