The Q3 2016 index noted 702 food and beverage recalls - a 7% decrease over the previous quarter and a 6% drop compared to the quarterly average in 2015.
The biggest culprit was bacterial contamination (110), followed by aflatoxins (108) which together made up 35.1% of recalls, then unauthorised ingredients (97).
Salmonella made up 93 of 702 (13.2%) of the bacterial contamination recalls, Listeria made up 3% and E. coli 2.9%.
Unauthorised ingredients are not taken through standard approval so are not on the green list of products tested. The category overlaps with toxins and bacterial contamination and features more imported goods rather than those in the EU market.
Recalls down, technology better
Farzad Henareh, European VP at Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, said it was ‘heartening’ that recalls of food are going down and it was a positive sign.
“We are tracking how the world is getting more connected and how innovation will impact the food market with consumers more conscious about nutrition and keeping track of nutritional intake and exercise. Also how it will impact food safety as a whole is one to keep an eye on.
“The increase in recalls [in the US report] is not necessarily a bad thing, in most cases it is because of increased regulatory control and market surveillance that ensures consumer safety and controls new potential contamination.
“The high volume of recalls in Western countries can be due to more regulation to protect consumers. In the EU there is naturally a slower pick-up [of technology] but that gap [between the EU and US] is closing because of availability of information, more consumer pressure and more collaboration.
“With the precautionary principle more pre-incident measures take place and it is nipped in the bud by the precautionary measures, the risk mitigation is much bigger than in the US.”
Top recalled categories and nature of risk
With 104 recalls in Q3, produce was the top category, surpassing nuts, nut products and seeds (87), which led in Q1 and Q2, fish and fish products were second with 90.
The top three food categories accounted for 45.2% of recalls and notifications. While the order has changed, these are the same as Q1 and Q2.
Henareh said the categories reflect the nature of risk and is down to the way Stericycle categorises its reporting.
“We see 90 recalls due to fish and fish products and 104 from produce, it is naturally what we see and we categorise in this way. It is not directly a concern, they are a re-occurring top three, it is the nature of the risk and relates to various things including allergens and bacterial contamination.”
A total of 65.8% of recalls and notifications originated from 15 countries. The number by country of origin was Turkey (45), US (39), India, Germany and Spain (all 38).
Turkey is taking over from China from a food recalls by country of origin perspective, said Henareh.
“Compared to electrical applications, where there are more from China which is focussed on consumer products, Turkey is the country of origin of the most recalls so in that way it is the China of food," he said.
“Increasingly over time it has enhanced its relationship with Europe, there is still a question mark as Turkey looks to join the European Union from a trade perspective to get a more complete position.”
The Q2 index highlighted uncertainty after the Brexit vote and Henareh said the impact was still unclear.
“It is a complete blur what is going to happen, even in wider categories, it is unclear what the impact will be. The timing on recalls, market surveillance, impact to national bodies in the UK is unclear and not on top of the agenda.
"The food safety authority is down on the priority list anyway, so any impact will likely be in a few years. The trade positon of the UK will change which might have an impact.”