The average number of food recalls that occur each year in Australia has been increasing over the past decade, according to the latest recall data published by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Undeclared allergens are the leading cause of allergen recalls in Australia; to better understand why, FSANZ has identified the root causes for these recalls based on its recall records and data.

Between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2023, FSANZ coordinated a total of 836 food recalls, with an average number of recalls per year being 84. In comparison, the annual average number of recalls for the 2013–2022 reporting period was 79. In 2023 alone, 87 recalls occurred. FSANZ hypothesizes that the increasing number of recalls may be a result of an improved national food safety control system, technological advancements, and increased industry and consumer vigilance.

During the last five years (2019–2023), undeclared allergens were the leading cause of food recalls in Australia, accounting for 44 percent (192 recalls). Most undeclared allergen recalls were due to the presence of a single undeclared allergen, although 21 percent of these recalls were due to the presence of multiple undeclared allergens. The distribution of allergen type associated with food recalls over the past five years is as follows: milk (63 recalls), tree nuts (29), wheat/gluten (28), eggs (26), soy (20), peanut (18), sesame (11), sulfites (3), mollusk (2), crustacean (2), and lupin (1).

FSANZ reviewed its recall records and data to better understand the root causes of undeclared allergen recalls, and identified accidental cross-contamination, lack of allergen labeling knowledge, packaging errors, and ingredient supplier verification issues. Packaging errors were by far the most prevalent cause of undeclared allergen recalls, representing 79 of the 192 recalls from 2019–2023. The second most common cause was supplier verification issues (39 recalls).

FSANZ is not the only food safety authority noticing a rising problem with undeclared allergens in foods in its jurisdiction. For example, in the U.S., an analysis of the most recent recall data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that the number of recalls caused by undeclared allergens skyrocketed in the country in 2023. Additionally, recently published results of sampling activities conducted by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that undeclared allergens are a problem in prepacked food at retail.

Microbiological contamination was the second most frequent reason for food recalls (after undeclared allergens), causing 83 recalls (24 percent) between 2019 and 2023. The specific pathogens responsible for the majority of these recalls were Listeria monocytogenes (30 recalls, 36 percent), Salmonella (27 recalls, 33 percent), Escherichia coli (18 recalls, 22 percent), and Pseudomonas (3 recalls, 3.6 percent).

Foreign matter and chemical contaminant-related food recalls were not uncommon during 2019–2023, causing 39 and 24 recalls, respectively. Biotoxin food recalls were least common, accounting for 14 recalls during the same period.

Additionally, the most commonly recalled food products were mixed and/or processed foods (89 recalls) followed by dairy products (46); breads and bakery products (42); fruits, vegetables, and herbs (41); and confectionery (40). Specifically, of the 192 undeclared allergen recalls that occurred in 2019–2023, 31 percent (59 recalls) were attributed to mixed/processed foods, while breads/bakery caused 32 recalls (17 percent), followed by salts, stocks, sauces, and condiments (30 recalls, 16 percent). Hepatitis A virus, Bacillus cereus, Yersina enterocolitica, Cronobacter, and Vibrio all caused one recall each during the reporting period. Additionally, 20 recalls were conducted due to the potential for microbial contamination.

FSANZ coordinates two types of recalls: consumer recalls, which means the recalled food has already been available for retail sale, and trade recalls, which is conducted before food is made available for direct purchase by the public. From 2019–2023, the majority of recalls coordinated by FSANZ were consumer recalls (83 percent).

After a food recall is coordinated by FSANZ, food producers must report corrective actions. Between 2019 and 2023, the most common corrective actions included staff training, amended handling procedures, and improved communication procedures.