They increased 12% in Q4 to 246 - the highest since Q1 2010. Recalled units were down 92% to about 15.2 million but this was still higher than 14 of the last 19 quarters.
Supplements (28.2%) and baked goods (27.9%) combined to make up 56.1% of FDA recalled units while (eggs 15.1%) and dairy (11.6%) also made the list.
In the last quarter, vegetables were the top category, accounting for 86.5% of recalled units and four of the five largest events while baked goods made up 4.9%.
Continued increase or hit a peak
Michael Good, VP of commercial and client services at Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, told FoodQualityNews that the increase is due to advances in contaminant testing.
When asked if they would continue to rise or hit a ceiling, he added it was ‘hard to put the genie back in the bottle’ when it came to technology.
“Recalls fluctuate from quarter to quarter, food recalls have increased over the past five years. If it continues depends on factors such as what will future technology bring and how it will play out. This is an area we are watching closely.
“Shifts occur in the regulatory landscape and how they will affect industry, it is hard to make a firm prediction. We are in wait and see mode with no conclusions as of yet.”
Good added the change that saw supplements as the top category was because they were involved in 13 out of 23 big recalls. Vegetables were down but were still involved in 21 recalls.
The top four causes of recalled units remained unchanged from Q3, bacterial contamination ranking highest at 43.8%, allergen (27.6%) quality issue (16.2%) and foreign material (9.9%) also on the list.
Agents behind bacterial contamination were Salmonella (52%), Listeria (18%), E. coli (6%) and other (23%).
The “other” category is primarily Burkholderia cepacia from one large supplement recall, which is not a typical type of contamination.
It also includes a small number of units contaminated with Clostridium botulinum and staph.
Good added the drop in recalled units seemed significant but was still higher than normal due to the large quantity seen in Q3.
The number of international FDA food recalls dropped from 32 (15%) last quarter to 23 (9%).
These are defined as the recalled product being distributed in the US and outside the country which is often Canada but has included New Zealand and Hong Kong.
USDA recalls dropped 16% to 32, while recalled pounds decreased 10% to 2.8 million.
Quality issues were the cause of 70.5% of USDA recalled pounds. 82.1% of USDA recalled pounds were poultry, pork 13.6% and beef 4.1%.
When asked about the role of seasonality due to the Xmas/limited edition products in Q4, Good said it was an obvious conclusion to make that this would lead to more recalls but they did not see it in the data.
“One example of something we have seen is what we call the multiplier effect. This is an issue where an ingredient or a supplier can cause multiple recalls. The impact ebbs and flows and is often reported across quarters,” he said.
“They tend to bring additional challenges, food companies rely on supply chain partners and it adds a layer of complexity.
“It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, recall preparedness is essential if companies are to survive a recall and we do see industry becoming more proactive.
“When a possible contamination occurs is not the time to think about recalls. It needs to be done before through mock recalls, recall plans and other ways to identify gaps.”