Stericycle releases an analysis of food recalls in the U.S

10 Sep 2020

As a result of the limited regulatory oversight activities by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the pandemic, food recalls dropped 44% in the second quarter, according to a report from the Stericycle. At the same time, the U.S. experienced its first-ever nationwide recall of onions and peaches by the FDA.

In the second quarter of 2020, there were 79 recalls from the FDA affecting 7.8 million units of consumer packaged food. Overall, 44.4% of those events involved poultry products, and milk represented one-third of the undeclared allergens identified in recalls. This past quarter represented the 12th consecutive quarter where undeclared allergens were a top cause for recalls - 43% of the units that were recalled had undeclared allergens.

Stericycle releases an analysis of food recalls in the U.S

Bacterial contamination was the cause of 13 recalls at the FDA, and Stericycle said this number represented the fewest number of bacterial recalls in more than a decade. Other sources of recalls included mislabeling, contamination by foreign objects and issues with quality.

FDA recalls remained on a downward trend in July but are expected to rise through the rest of the year, per the report. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recalls inched up in July.

Quarterly recall activity at the USDA was due mainly to the presence of foreign material in products or lack of inspection, which accounted for one-third of recalls each. Poultry products were the most heavily affected category with 44.4% of all recall events attributable to this segment.

While recalls are down across the board, consumer concern with health and safety is up thanks to the ongoing threat presented by the coronavirus. In the U.S. the proliferation of this disease resulted in the closure of dozens of meat processing plants across the country, which put a strain on supply chains and caused animal protein prices to jump during the second quarter of the year.

At a regulatory level, there were also changes to the food safety environment. The FDA relaxed food labeling requirements multiple times in light of COVID-19 with the intention of assisting companies needing to make minor formulation and ingredient changes in response to issues of scarcity or supply chain constraints.

While the FDA was relaxing labeling requirements it was also in the process of releasing its “New Era of Smarter Food Safety: Blueprint for the Future” after months of COVID-19- related delays. This food safety blueprint offers guidelines to enable technology frameworks in traceability to facilitate foodborne illness response and prevention. It is not yet implemented.

With efforts to modernize food safety in the works, the U.S. government is working toward reducing the overall number of recalls, albeit due to a reduction in need rather than oversight.

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