A total of 313 food product recall announcements were issued in 2023 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—an increase of 8 percent over 2022—and foodborne illnesses associated with the recalled products sickened more than 1,000 people and resulted in six fatalities. To uncover recall trends, the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) Education Fund analyzed all 313 recalls issued in 2023 in its Food for Thought 2024 report, finding that undeclared allergens dominated the reasons for food recalls—largely due to sesame—with the number of recalls due to undeclared allergens skyrocketing in 2023.

Part of the Public Interest Network, PIRG is a nonprofit public interest advocacy group that aims to protect public health in the U.S.

FDA and USDA Recalls: Top-Line Numbers and Trends

Of the 313 recalls and recall alerts issued in 2023 by both agencies, 224 were issued by FDA, which regulates approximately 78 percent of the U.S. food supply, and 89 were from USDA. In the past few years, the number of recalls issued by FDA has remained fairly consistent; however, recalls issued by USDA increased by 31 percent between 2022 and 2023. The total of 89 USDA recalls issued in 2023 is still well below the totals seen during the five years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic. The 89 recalls issued by USDA in 2023 makes for the highest number since 2019.

USDA keeps detailed records about how a food safety issue leading to a recall was discovered. In nearly 44 percent of USDA recalls, food safety issues leading to recalls were discovered by federal (37.1 percent) or state (6.7 percent) regulators, followed by companies (25.8 percent), consumers submitting complaints (23.6 percent), retailers (3.4 percent), and other sources (3.4 percent).

Prolific foodborne illness outbreaks and the associated recalls that occurred during 2023 include:

  • Cantaloupe contaminated by Salmonella, sickening more than 400 people across 44 states, resulting in 158 hospitalizations and six deaths. The first cases of salmonellosis were confirmed on October 15, 2023. FDA announced the first voluntary recall by a food company on November 8, 2023, and 11 other companies eventually followed suit with voluntary recalls. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the outbreak over on January 19, 2024.
  • Fruit puree pouches containing cinnamon from a foreign supplier that was intentionally adulterated with lead and cadmium. More than 500 people across 44 states were sickened, with the median age of patients being one year. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services alerted FDA of the first four connected cases of lead poisoning in children on October 28, 2023. FDA announced a voluntary recall by WanaBana LLC on October 30, 2023, which was expanded to include Wanabana, Schnucks, and Weis brand pouches on November 9.

Reasons for Food Recalls in 2023

According to PIRG’s analysis, half of the total 313 food product recalls (49.2 percent) were issued due to undeclared allergens, followed by contamination by two pathogens: Listeria monocytogenes (15 percent) and Salmonella (8.6 percent). Less common reasons for recalls included lack of inspection/need for reinspection (6.1 percent), foreign matter contamination (4.8 percent), import issues (2.6 percent), Escherichia coli contamination (2.6 percent), Cronobacter contamination (1.3 percent), Hepatitis A contamination (1.3 percent), and choking hazards (1.3 percent).

The number of products recalled because of undeclared allergens skyrocketed in 2023, increasing by 27 percent from the year prior. About 39 percent of that increase was caused by undeclared sesame, which, with the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act (FASTER Act) having gone into effect on January 1, 2023, was added to the "Big 9" list of allergens that are legally required to be disclosed on food packaging. Undeclared sesame was the sole cause of 13 food recalls in 2023.

Additionally, recalls due to foreign matter contamination (i.e., metal, plastic, and other physical contaminants) dropped by 40 percent in 2023 from 2022 (which saw 15 and 25 foreign matter recalls, respectively); recalls due to Salmonella decreased by 31 percent (from 39 in 2022 to 27 in 2023); and recalls due to L. monocytogenes increased by 9 percent (from 43 in 2022 to 47 in 2023).

Most Commonly Recalled Foods in 2023

Pet food recalls also increased, from four in 2022 to seven in 2023, six of which were caused by Salmonella or another microbial contaminant. In one 2023 outbreak linked to pet food, six of the seven sickened people were babies under one year of age.

Snacks like cookies, granola bars, candy, and popcorn were the most commonly recalled food type in 2023, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the total. The other most frequently recalled foods in 2023 were cantaloupe (mostly due to Salmonella) and other fruit (all but one recall because of L. monocytogenes or Hepatitis A), beef (E. coli and foreign matter), soup (undeclared allergens), salad and leafy greens (Listeria and undeclared allergens), poultry (undeclared allergens or undercooked ready-to-eat products), cheese (L. monocytogenes), vegetables (L. monocytogenes), supplements (undeclared allergens), and pet food (Salmonella).