US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls increased 34% to 219 – the highest since Q1 2010. Recalled units were up 69% to more than 199.4 million, exceeding the previous quarter.
89.1% of recalled units were due to bacterial contamination and 7.1% because of undeclared allergens.
Listeria was the largest contributor with 64.1%; 19.4% was Salmonella, 13.6% were E. coli, 2.9% were C. botulinum.
Based on food units, the numbers were more lopsided, with Listeria accounting for more than 99% of the units recalled for contamination.
Improved methods = more recalls
Stericycle said technology contributed to higher recall volumes as improved bacterial detection methods identified more contaminated products.
Food companies are employing new technology to detect contaminants that evaded earlier testing methods, it added.
Vegetables were the top category, accounting for 86.5% of recalled units and four of the five largest recalls were for vegetables. Baked goods made up 4.9% and prepared foods 3%.
The data comes from the Q3 US recall index compiled by Stericycle.
Michael Good, vice president at Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, said producers are pulling back more products but the food supply is safer as a result.
“Advanced testing detects contamination with more precision than ever. Regulators and companies are being more vigilant when contamination is found in the product.
“[Regulators] continue to take steps to remove the ‘wiggle room’, which is historically that cooking kills contamination, can’t rely on that as food might not be cooked to the correct temperature so now we are erring on the side of protecting the public which is a good thing.
“It might appear that contamination is on the rise but the best way to minimize the risk is to have an effective and robust recall plan with a mock recall.”
USDA recalls are up 36% to 38, while recalled pounds are down 94% to more than 3.1 million. Although a sharp drop from Q2, this is in line with recent trends, said Stericycle.
Q3 2016 saw 380 million units recalled, higher than the previous record of 200 million in Q2.
50.9% of USDA recalled pounds were poultry, multiple (poultry, beef and pork) made up 39.2% and beef was 5.1%.
Undeclared allergens are not making fewer recalls but there is a larger role played by bacterial contamination.
The number due to undeclared allergens rose each quarter from 40 in Q1, 71 in Q2 to 86 in Q3.
15% of FDA food recalls were international, the highest percentage since 2012.
International is defined as the recalled product being distributed in the US and one location outside the country which is often Canada but has included New Zealand and Hong Kong.
When asked about social media, Good said it was a double-edged sword.
“It can help communicate the recall and guide consumer on the steps required for reimbursement.
“It shows the company is concerned and can correct misinformation. They can use an outside vendor to react quickly to what’s going on. Companies often provide a hotline or request information from the consumer and take the conversation offline.”