Q&A: Recalls and Undeclared Allergens

Recalls involving undeclared allergens are becoming more prominent in the food manufacturing industry.

According to the recent Quarter 4 Recall Index from Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, the FDA reported 105 recall events in the fourth quarter of 2014 affecting 94 companies and 13.8 million units. Although the numbers of recalls and affected companies were the lowest of 2014, the total affected units more than doubled compared to the third quarter. Undeclared allergens accounted for more than half the recalled units during the latest quarter.

Food Manufacturing recently had the opportunity to correspond with Todd Harris, Vice President, Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS to discuss topics related to recalls involving undeclared allergens in the food industry.

Q: Why have recalls involving undeclared allergens become so significant in recent years?

A: There are as many as 15 million Americans with food allergies, including 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the amount of people with allergies continues to rise, regulators have been laser-focused on food safety, which, in part, has led to a rise in recalls. In this heightened state of awareness, consumers and manufacturers are also extremely vigilant, and are better at identifying and reporting allergens.
Q: Has there been an increase in recalls related to undeclared allergens in recent years? If so, what has led to that increase?

A: For the past several years, undeclared allergens have consistently been a leading cause for USDA and FDA recalls. In the fourth quarter of 2014, undeclared allergens accounted for more than 50 percent of all FDA food recalls. These recalls are mainly a result of simple operational errors such as mislabeling, mis-packaging and unintentional cross-contamination.
Q: What should consumers do in the event of a recall involving undeclared allergens?

A: If you have food allergies, you should obviously avoid all recalled items. In general, you should read every label, and be aware of the news. For instance, there is a widespread, ongoing recall of cumin and products containing the spice due to undeclared peanut proteins. The recall is affecting everything from taco kits and Cajun seasoning mixes to beef and chicken. You can also go to FDA.gov for the latest information on allergen-related recalls.
Q: What should food manufacturers do in the event of a recall involving undeclared allergens?

A: Once a recall is initiated, the recalling company submits their recall strategy for review by the regulatory agency. The first responsibility is to notify the parties that are affected by the recall, then to remove the product from the market quickly, before any harm is caused. It’s important to note that managing a recall is extremely complex, with lots of moving pieces. With intensified scrutiny from the FDA and USDA, food manufacturers cannot afford to be unprepared when, not if, a recall happens. The goals of a recall are to protect the public, protect the brand and close the event as soon as possible. Achieving these goals, while also focusing on running a business, is a challenge that not all manufacturers are ready for. Preparation is the key. Without the appropriate plan and expertise in consumer notification, product retrieval, recall response and in complying with regulatory agencies, a recall event can cause irreparable brand damage.
Q: What happens to the recalled products?

A: Recalled products are typically stored for a period of time, depending on the product and litigious nature of the event, but are ultimately destroyed in a compliant manner or they are rendered unsaleable.