August was a busy month for food recalls across Europe, with 26 of a possible 27 Member States raising alerts to the European Commission.
From 1 August until 1 September, there were 278 separate notifications submitted spanning the entire food and feed spectrum. Of the total, 46 were deemed to be ‘not serious’ and 54 were classed as ‘undecided’.
Usually, we tend to look more closely at those cited as posing a serious risk to consumers, however on this occasion we have done the opposite – in an attempt to better understand why they are being recalled even though they do not allegedly pose a great risk to consumers.
Of the 46 notifications cited as ‘not serious’, 14 tested positive for salmonella, four for infestation (mould and parasitic) and two for listeria. The remainder was a combination of unauthorised levels of ingredients and contaminants.
Usually, when a product is found to contain any of the aforementioned bacteria or infestations it is cited as a serious risk to consumers. However, regardless of the risk level cited, all the notifications were acted upon in the same way – withdrawn from the market and the recipients.
This leads us to the conclusion that the risk register is working well, as even when the risk is deemed low or undecided, no country is willing to gamble with the health of its citizens.
When a RASFF member has any information about a serious health risk from food or feed, it must immediately notify the European Commission using RASFF. In particular, RASFF members must notify if they take such measures as withdrawing or recalling products from the market to protect consumer health and if rapid action is required. They also have to notify if they agreed with the responsible operator that a food or feed should not be placed on the market if the measure is taken on account of serious risk. The same applies when the product in question is placed on the market under conditions.
There are three types of RASSF notifications – Alert, Information, Border Rejections. The notifications cited as not serious or undecided in August 2020 were either listed under Information or border rejection.
Information notifications are used when a risk has been identified but other Members do not need to take rapid action because the product has not reached their market or is no longer present, or the nature of the risk does not require rapid action.
With Border Rejections this means that the food or feed has been tested and rejected at the external borders of the EU. The notifications are then sent to all EEA border posts to reinforce controls and to ensure the product does not re-enter the EU through another border post.
A zero-tolerance approach has been adopted right across the continent, which on first reading is perhaps not great news for suppliers and distributors. That said, the supply chain will benefit over the longer term if they adapt and respond with cleaner processes to ensure their products get to consumers seamlessly.
Planning for risk and responding quickly when things do go wrong is core to the sustainability of any business or sector, but none more so than those who operate in food and drink. After all, trust is something that is earned over time but can be lost in an instant.
Those who own their mistakes and make positive and proactive changes are more likely to come out the other end with their reputation intact. Recalls are not something you want to happen, but they do.