Recent analysis from the FSA has revealed that there was a 36% increase in allergy and food alerts in England, Wales and Northern Island from March 2018-2019.
Similarly, in the year from October 2017-2018, unsafe food product recalls rose by 40%.
These increases do not necessarily indicate that standards are slipping, or that food production is becoming less safe. In fact, recalls could be a sign that industry is becoming more proactive and risk averse following high profile food safety headlines such as the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.
These high profile incidents have led to consultations on new guidance for best practice approaches to food traceability, withdrawals and recalls, which could also have encouraged industry action following a suspected food safety issue.
Generally, recalling a product will be a last resort consideration for most businesses. The impacts can be severe, with high costs both from implementing and communicating the recall itself to impacts on production, reputation and contract fulfilment.
However, the consequences of failing to appropriately deal with a food safety issue can be far worse, potentially resulting in criminal prosecutions for the company or senior management. Since the change to the sentencing guidelines in 2016, fines are now unlimited with custodial sentences of up to 18 months available for individuals.
As ever, prevention is always better than cure, and so it is crucial food businesses ensure they have proper systems in place to reduce the need for a recall in the first place.
It is also important to review recall procedures to ensure they can be implemented effectively when the need arises, minimising the costs and impact to the business and the risks of negative publicity or regulator attention from poor or slow responses.
As food businesses become more complex, often handling a variety of different product lines and equipment, designing and implementing these systems and recalls properly can benefit from independent expert assistance to ensure their efficacy.
If you would like any advice on your current policies and procedures, or need to implement a recall, our Business Risk and Regulation team can help.
While opinions are divided on the reason for the recent surge in food recalls, businesses are advised to have a clear system to mitigate the impact of such incidents.