The average number of recalls in Australia is on the rise, mostly due to undeclared allergens.

Between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2019, Food Standards Australia New Zealand coordinated 707 recalls and the average number of recalls per year has risen to 71, up from 67 in 2010.

Forty percent of recalls (283) were due to undeclared allergens. Behind this has been a rise in recalls due to microbial contamination (181 recalls or 26% of all recalls).

Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli are the three microorganisms most commonly associated with microbial food recalls in Australia.

Meat, dairy and mixed and/or processed foods are the main food groups recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. “This highlights the reason why industry and government place such significance on Listeriamanagement in these sectors and the extensive testing of food products undertaken to monitor this.” said Dairysafe CEO Geoff Raven.

Dairy products are more commonly recalled due to concerns with process hygiene, indicated through E. coli testing, than other categories of food.

Geoff said there were three recalls in September 2020, all due to undeclared allergens.

“And prior to these there were two recalls of almond milk – the recall of MILKLAB and Blue Diamond almond milk due to potential pseudomonas contamination, and the recall of Inner Goodness UHT Almond Milk again due to potential microbial contamination,” Geoff said.

Types of recalls

Geoff said food recalls can be at the trade or consumer level.

“A consumer recall is the most extensive type, recovering the food from all points in the production and distribution chain, including from consumers. These are the recalls advertised on the news, in print and social media,” he said.

“A trade recall recovers food that has not been sold directly to consumers. It involves recovering 100% of the affected the product from distribution centres and wholesalers. The general public won’t hear about a trade level recall.

“A food withdrawal is different from a food recall in that it involves removing food from the supply chain where there is no public health or safety issue, for example, if the product is underweight or has a quality defect.”

How to minimise the impact of a recall

The risk of recall is part of life for a dairy processing business, as is the case for all food manufacturing businesses.

“This is because of the extensive testing required in the dairy sector to verify process hygiene and to also test for pathogens that are specific hazards in certain dairy products,” Geoff said.

“Every business must have a recall plan in place and should be testing this at least annually through a mock recall. Knowing your recall processes as well as your ability to track and trace your product, will potentially save you time and money.”

Geoff said one way to mitigate the potential for a consumer level recall is to implement ‘test and hold’ arrangements, that is to maintain product under company control until the test results are confirmed.

“If adverse results were received, affected product can be recovered/removed from the supply chain without the need for consumer notification. Of course, this system can create challenges for short shelf life product.”

Additionally, when undertaking environmental testing (e.g. listeria monitoring), and specifically in zone 1 (food contact surfaces), Geoff said consideration should be given to implementing cleaning and sanitation arrangements for tested sites immediately after swabbing has been completed. This action mitigates the potential for cross contamination of product where an adverse result is received.

“Your business can further minimise the impact of recall by having appropriate insurances in place,” Geoff said. “This will also assist in the minimising the time it takes for a business to recover from the impact of a recall to ‘business as usual’.”

Dairy processors can also complete free online recall training. The course has been developed by Safefood Queensland in conjunction with Dairy Australia and is available to all dairy processors throughout Australia.

“The course can be completed at your own pace, in your own time. It adds value to your business, it ensures your staff have the skills and knowledge to act, it minimises business risk and it’s a professional development opportunity for your staff,” Geoff said.

“Completing the course will help your business be prepared for a recall. Any people responsible for recalls in your business should complete it.”

Dairysafe is available to discuss your test arrangements and recall plans to ensure they provide the appropriate outcomes and suit your business requirements. Phone Dairysafe on (08) 8223 2277 for information.