Corporate Risk, Issues & Crisis

March 2, 2016

Cocktail of factors feed food recall rise

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The run-up to Christmas and the early part of 2016 saw an unprecedented number of food recalls – 37 in total. There were 17 food recalls in December alone; 14 of them were as a result of undeclared allergens. This compares with eight during the same period the previous year (five of which were for undeclared allergens). And into the New Year, the recalls have kept comping; there were 20 through January and up to mid-February – eight for undeclared allergens and the remainder for foreign bodies and microbiological issues. During the same period 12 months ago there were just eight recalls.

So what is the reason for such high numbers? Without insight into the background to each incident it is of course impossible to know for sure, and there is likely to be combination of factors involved.

Perhaps exacerbating any single root cause is the reluctance of food companies to view the technical team as an investment rather than a net cost. With an expanding workload being pushed on to technical managers, as an increasing burden of auditing is loaded on to the food industry, there must be a greater likelihood of risks being overlooked and product issues arising.

Furthermore, many local authorities are reducing their inspection services as part of budget cuts brought on by the disappearance of central funding. The fear is that less reputable companies might use this situation to cut corners or even act illegally.

In January, the Food Standards Agency warned that many local authorities are “not able to deliver a food service as set out in the statutory Food Law Code of Practice and face further significant budget reductions over the next few years”. Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute of Food Safety at Queen’s University Belfast, predicts that, with fewer inspections of food business, “good practice in a small number of these businesses will markedly decline and may lead to catastrophic consequences”.

The key to minimising the likelihood of a recall is for the senior team to take risk management seriously. By adopting an holistic approach that identifies potential risks across all functions, then implementing a robust mitigation strategy for the biggest risks, companies will be supporting their technical teams, identifying potential problems before they happen and, ultimately, reducing the likelihood of a recall.

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