Recalls spiked in Q2 2016 with the FDA recalling more than 80 times more food units than Q1 2016 and USDA recalling more than 45 times the number of pounds of food in that same time frame, according to a new report from Stericycle ExpertSolutions.
More accurate genome testing enables faster contamination identification for manufacturers and regulators, and when coupled with stricter regulations, recall numbers tend to rise.
"It's not that there's necessarily more contamination, it's that the industry is getting better at detecting what's there," Kevin Pollack, vice president of Stericycle, told Meat + Poultry.
Whole genome sequencing is quickly becoming an industry standard for improving the safety of the food supply and identifying and removing contaminated products more quickly. The increase in recalls may not mean the food supply is less safe, but rather is on its way to becoming safer.
By identifying contamination more readily, manufacturers can determine and then fix ongoing issues with their products and operations to prevent recalls from recurring in the future. When the FSMA compliance date for larger manufacturers hits next month, manufacturers who are not up to the new standards could also cause a spike in recalls, even though their products and facilities may be just as safe—if not safer than before.
Another reason recall numbers appear to be higher is what Stericycle calls the multiplier effect. This is when several recalls stem from one ingredient supplier that affects dozens or even hundreds of other products and companies. In Q2, the multiplier effect drove the CRF Frozen Foods recall, which impacted 350 products from 42 brands. Last month, the CDC ended its investigation but did not identify the cause of the listeria contamination.
More recently, the same "multiplier" phenomenon is occurring with General Mills' ongoing flour recall, which continues to impact more brands and companies that use the flour as an ingredient in their products, particularly baking mixes. ConAgra also recently recalled nearly 200,000 pounds of P.F. Chang's frozen entrees due to potentially contaminated sugar the company used in the sauce. However, ConAgra's sugar supplier remains a mystery due to FDA corporate confidentiality laws, so this recall may not be over yet either.
Global recalls are also on the rise, but these figures illustrate the complexities manufacturers face when dealing with discrepancies in labeling errors and ingredient regulations. Those regulations can vary depending on the country or region. For example, the FDA considers propylene glycol to be "generally recognized as safe" in the U.S., but manufacturers have had to remove products containing this ingredient in certain European countries that have banned the ingredient.