Common reasons for food allergen recalls

There is plenty of evidence to support that undeclared allergens are one of the greatest causes for food recalls world-wide. So, what is going wrong? In the post, find out what the major causes are for undeclared allergens, how they are being detected and what you can do to protect your food business.

International Statistics for 2018

Before we get into the causes and solutions for undeclared allergen check out the 2018 statistics for major reporting agencies around the world. These figures relate to the 1 January 2018 – 31 December 2018 reporting period.

Reporting Agency% of undeclared allergen recalls to total recallsNumber of Undeclared Allergen recalls / Total Recalls
FSANZ, AUSTRALIA46%(46/100)
USDA, USA20.8%(26/125)
FDA, USA37.2%(142/382)
FSA, UK57.8%(110/190)
RAFSS, EUROPE5.3%(168/3167)
The above figures are indicative and based on food recalls and withdrawals as reported on the respective websites.

Causes for Undeclared Allergens

The causes of undeclared allergen recalls can be separated into four key areas.

1. Lack of skills and knowledge

Food labelling laws are made to help the allergic consumer avoid illness and injury. However, if you don’t know what the law requires you to do, it makes food compliance very hard to achieve. Lack of knowledge is not a defence in court so if you are unsure about the laws around allergen labelling in your country of manufacture and country of supply, it is time to get reading. To start you off, click here to watch a free webinar on an Introduction to Food Labelling.

2. Supplier verification issues

Sometimes information provided by suppliers is not correct. If you rely on the ingredients listing or labels provided on raw materials to formulate your own products, beware! Always follow up with your supplier as to the current product specification which includes the correct ingredients and allergen identification. In addition, to avoid a food allergen recall, regularly review your suppliers, the raw materials they provide you and the communication you have with them.

3. Errors with packaging

Packing the product into the wrong packaging is a cause for concern as the correct allergens and ingredients may not be included in the ingredient statement. Another error can occur when incorrect claims are made on the packaging around “free-from” claims. Robust systems, checks and balances will help to avoid this common cause for food allergen recalls.

4. Accidental allergen cross-contact

Allergen cross contact is when one food comes into contact with another food that contains different allergens. An allergen food recall due to this issue can originate from poor cleaning practices, inadequate handling and storage procedures and inadequate knowledge. To find out more about preventing allergen cross contact click here.

Detection and Notification

Do you know how are undeclared allergens detected? Customers complaining always seems to be the most common method. Customers may notify the food manufacturer directly or they may bi-pass this process completely and notify their local government agency.

Undeclared allergens may also be detected during routine testing completed by your food company, retailer, distributor, advocacy group or government agency.

International Trade

Keep in mind that not all countries may have the same allergen declaration legal requirements that your county of manufacture does. This is particularly important if you are exporting food. If you are exporting to other countries, make sure that you confirm which allergens need to be declared on your food packaging and labels.

Protect your food business

It is fundamental that your business has a robust Allergen Management Program to help you avoid a food recall due to undeclared allergens. To learn more about developing an effective allergen management program, please click here.  

Has your food business ever experienced a food allergen recall? Can you add to this list? Share your experience and knowledge with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.

6 thoughts on “Common reasons for food allergen recalls”

  1. Very interesting. Thanks Amanda. We see that some allergen recalls originate due to lack of fundamental training of operators who aren’t aware of the far-reaching implications of their actions.

    1. Thanks Vince for your insights. I see a lack of Allergen training being a major issue in the food industry.

  2. Wilko Scholtens

    Industry specialist have concluded that a major risk for Accidental allergen cross-contact is identified in poorly cleaned tanker trucks during bulk transports.

    In the majority of the cases foodstuff only trucks carry different foodstuffs including allergens.

    Cleaning takes place at remote stations often by 3rd party suppliers. These 3rd parties are directly involved in conditioning direct product contact as the foodstuff comes into direct contact with the transport equipment.

    Remote process monitoring can help to secure that cleaning took place according to proper cleaning procedures set by your QA process experts. Allergen removal cleaning procedures are possible.

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