Nearly all (96.9%) of the FDA recalled units were because of undeclared allergens from just 8.4% in Q2.
They have been a consistent cause of recalls (38.9%) for the last four quarters.
It affected all sectors: with prepared foods (17.7%), produce (12.7%), supplements (11.4%) and baked goods (12%) making up FDA recalls.
Other reasons included bacterial contamination at just 2.2% and quality 0.7%.
The Recall Index found FDA food recalls declined 11% in Q3 2017 to 158.
Milk and nut allergens top recalls
Undeclared allergens were the top cause of FDA food recalls, accounting for 53.8% - an increase from 37.1% in Q2.
The most common was milk that appeared in 35.3% of the undeclared allergen recalls.
However, nuts dominated the recalled units – 97.8% of the undeclared allergen units recalled involved this commodity.
Chris Harvey, recall strategist at Stericycle Expert Solutions, said steps such as additional preventative controls, increased inspections and investments in new technology may help reduce the undeclared allergen impact.
“Because we’ve seen a lot of allergen recalls resulting from what we call the ‘multiplier effect,’ when one supplier issue causes recalls across many brands, companies should also look at their supply chain,” he told FoodQualityNews.
“This means understanding the procedures for identifying any potential allergens and ensuring they are declared properly, not only among suppliers, but also for their suppliers. They should also do independent testing of those ingredients for potential allergens on a regular basis.
“By catching the issue early, companies may be able to avoid a recall or reduce its scope so that fewer products are affected.”
Recalled FDA food units increased 19% to 106.6 million – higher than 20 of the last 22 quarters.
Of the FDA recalled food units, 95.6% were Class I – the most serious classification.
FDA food recalls distributed domestically and internationally was at 9% which is the average for the past nine quarters.
Harvey said it remained to be seen if the domination of undeclared allergens was a blip or potential future trend.
“In the first half of 2017, bacterial contamination accounted for more recalls and more units than undeclared allergens. This quarter pushed undeclared allergens into the lead in both recalls and units, but we’ll need to see how Q4 shakes out before we can call it anything more than a one quarter shift.”
Fewer recalls but increase in size
The number of food pounds recalled by the USDA dropped 27% but allergens accounted for 62.5% of recalls.
USDA recalls dropped 49% to 24 – tied lowest since Q3 2014. Recalled USDA pounds decreased to 7.5 million but this is still higher than five of the last seven quarters.
The top USDA category based on pounds was multiple (pork, poultry and beef) at 96.7%, pork 2%, poultry 1.1% and beef 0.2%.
Foreign materials accounted for 95.6% of recalled USDA pounds compared to just 6.2% in Q2.
Harvey said there were fewer recalls but their size increased.
“There were only two recalls due to foreign materials in Q3 but one accounted for a large percentage of recalled pounds. In the first half of the year, foreign materials and bacterial contamination were tied for the second leading cause of recalls.
“However, undeclared allergen was the top cause of both recalls and pounds (36.7% of recalls and 65.6% of pounds). It may be one area of focus, but there are other recall causes stakeholders must concentrate on as well.”