Undeclared allergens top 2016 food recall list

assorted allergy food

The numbers are in and the total amount of food recalls in 2016 in the U.S. and Canada was 764 — a 22% increase compared to the previous year. Undeclared allergens once again topped the food recall list, attributing to more food recalls than any other form of contamination.

Based on notices issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, of the 764 total food recalls, undeclared allergens were responsible for 305 of them, with the largest offenders being milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat.

Based on the data analyzed by Food Safety Magazine, each allergen was responsible for more recalls in 2016 when compared to 2015:

  • Milk: 101 recalls in 2016 vs. 82 recalls in 2015
  • Eggs: 82 recalls in 2016 vs. 42 recalls in 2015
  • Peanuts: 51 recalls in 2016 vs. 49 recalls in 2015
  • Wheat: 40 recalls in 2016 vs. 34 recalls in 2015

A smaller — but still significant — number of recalls were also issued for other allergens, primarily soy and various tree nuts.

After undeclared allergens, Listeria was next on the 2016 recall list, with a total of 196 recalls. Somewhat surprisingly, a large number of these — over 50 — were due to sunflower seeds and products containing sunflower kernels. Various recalls were issued throughout the U.S. and Canada as dozens of well-known companies pulled their own products due to sourcing the potentially contaminated seeds.

Furthermore, nearly 30 recalls were issued in 2016 for frozen vegetables and fruits flagged for Listeria contamination. The marketplace saw another trickle-down effect as a number of brands recalled their products after one major frozen food supplier issued a number of notices for its frozen organic and traditional fruits and vegetables. In all, the article states the recalls included approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brand names.

Foreign matter contamination was next on the list with a total of 44 recalls documented in 2016. Pieces of glass, metal, plastic, rubber and wood account for most of these recalls, with a wide variety of foods impacted — such as meat, fruit and ice cream. However, one recall stood out in particular for the presence of sand and black soil, and another two recalls stemmed from the presence of unidentified foreign materials.

Next on the list of recalls were products associated with Salmonella contamination. A total of 99 Salmonella-related food recalls were tallied for 2016 — most attributed to contaminated nuts, primarily pistachios, macadamia nuts and derived products.

Two specific strains of Salmonella, Montevideo and Senftenberg, were found during the outbreak investigation and were responsible for sickening at least 11 individuals in several states. Although one company produced the contaminated nuts, they were sold under a variety of brand names throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad.

Thirty-one E. coli recalls were tallied for 2016, more than half of them occurring in the third quarter. For the most part, beef products were mostly to blame, followed by pork products.

Perhaps the most well-known of last year’s E. coli recalls was issued by a popular food company whose signature kitchen flour brands were pulled from the shelves after 38 individuals became ill with E. coli. Oddly, at the time of the recall, the E. coli O121 strain had not been detected in any of the company’s flour brands, nor was it found in the company’s manufacturing plant despite the reports of sick consumers.

By researching these recalls it is apparent that they can occur for a number of reasons. From an inadequate food production and monitoring process, to failing to maintain food processing facilities and equipment, to noncompliance with various federal food safety regulations, food products can become contaminated more easily than many may understand. Especially as the supply chain grows and regulations continue to evolve, proper food safety precautions are vital to the success of any food company.

Neogen is a leader in the food safety solutions and offers test kits to detect a wide variety of allergens in ingredients, liquids, clean-in-place rinses, finished foods, and on environmental surfaces. Neogen also offers rapid diagnostic test kits to detect harmful bacteria including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and other pathogens, as well as residues, adulterants and other food safety issues. For more information, click here.

Being proactive and investing in the tools needed to establish a proper food safety program will help prevent a wide range negative events, including product recalls, which impact consumers, employees, and a company’s reputation and bottom line.

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