Roughly every second of the major food companies in the U.S. had experienced a recall in the past five years. And more than half of these recalls cost the companies more than 10 mio USD. This is the result of a 2011 study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association among 36 companies in the U.S.
At Swiss Re's Risk Engineering we wanted to better understand the latest trends in the food recall to see if and why there are more recalls in the food sector. Our findings have just been published. Some of the main insights we got were:
The number of food recalls in the U.S. is increasing. Over the past ten years, recall numbers have almost doubled. There are several causes for this increase:
- a more globalized food chain with suppliers of ingredients spanning around the world is more likely to cause food incidents. For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and control an uninterrupted cooling during the transportation of certain goods.
- changing regulation for food safety with norms becoming more stringent. What is ultimately for the safety for us as food consumers is likely to trigger more recalls for food producers: regulation that does not tolerate wrong or missing labeling or lower threshold levels of microbiological contamination
- consumers being more sensitive to safe and healthy food combined with a high level of media coverage of food scandals in general. We want to be sure that food packaging properly declare allergens, provenance of our food or food additives. This in turn can be one of the triggers for the changing regulation mentioned above.
But not all types of food are equally affected by recalls. We observed the highest number of recalls for the category "ready to eat". Such convenience food fulfills many of the factors listed above: combining many ingredients from a high number of suppliers, complex production and transportation ultimately leading to high number of recalls.
Food supplements and functional food ranked third in respect of number of recalls but the recalls are mostly related to labelling issues and not to microbiological contamination which is the dominant cause for the majority of food categories.
As for meat, per capita consumption decreased while the number of recalls continues to increase. The single most frequent reasons for meat recalls were undeclared allergens (e.g. milk products or wheat protein typically used for processed meat and poultry products). Recalls due to undeclared allergens clearly are becoming more and more frequent while the recalls due to microbiological contaminations seem to decrease since 2012 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopted the "Test and Hold" policy aiming to reduce foodborne illnesses from salmonella and campylobacter.
To avoid a recall will not be possible by the companies involved along the food production chain. Best practices applied to production procedures help to minimse the
likelihood and severity of them, though. Checking and monitoring critical parameters of the production and transportation avoids recalls. Selecting suppliers not only according to costs but also upon quality criteria will further cut the number of recalls. In addition, food companies' recall preparedness lowers the efforts in case of a recall. This includes for instance product traceability towards consumers and suppliers, pre-defined communication channels in case of a notification and well planned removal of the products in
the shelves. Ultimately such as crisis management planning decreases recall cost, too.
Category: Food security: Food industry