European product recalls continue to rise as regulatory scrutiny increases across sectors

June 7, 2023

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European product recalls increased 6.1% in the first quarter of 2023, according to Sedgwick brand protection’s latest European recall index report. In total, the European automotive, consumer product, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and medical device sectors reported 2,914 recalls in Q1.

The recall index report goes beyond the recall data to provide an in-depth look at regulatory developments, and emerging risks facing these industries, across the EU and UK. We also include insights and analysis from our strategic partners at top law firms to help industry stakeholders navigate the regulatory environment, product recalls, and other in-market challenges.

Q1 product recall trends in review

The increase in product recalls was driven by the consumer product, medical device, and food and beverage sectors, which experienced uplifts of 18.4%, 6.8%, and 2.9% respectively. Conversely, automotive recalls fell by 2.6% and pharmaceutical recalls by 17.3% in the first quarter of 2023.

A key focus of regulators in the first quarter was environmental concerns, ranging from green claims in several product categories, reducing emissions, and enforcing extended producer responsibilities for waste disposal and packaging materials. Protecting consumers when online was another key focus of regulators, who are working to establish safeguards to prevent sales of counterfeit products in e-commerce marketplaces, as well as develop regulations to make online gaming safer. It remains to be seen whether these regulations will be able to keep pace with technology.

How Q1 2023 recalls compared to the previous quarter

  • Automotive recalls decreased 2.6%, from 195 in Q4 2022 to 190 in Q1 2023. While ‘Injuries’ remained the leading cause, ‘Environmental’ concerns experienced the greatest uplift, rising by 80% from the previous quarter. The UK issued the greatest share of recall notification with 83, followed by Germany with 63.
  • Recalls in the European food and beverage sector increased slightly, from 1,121 in Q4 2022 to 1,154 in Q1 2023. Events caused by ‘Contamination – Other’ (i.e. non-bacterial) increased 25.6% from the previous quarter, making it the leading cause of recalls in Q1 with 486 events.
  • There were 86 pharmaceutical recalls in Q1 2023, a 17.3% decrease from the 104 recalls recorded in Q4 2022. Concerns related to ‘Safety’ were the leading cause of recalls with 31 events, followed by ‘Foreign materials/contamination’ with 12, and ‘Mislabelling’ with 11.
  • Medical device recalls increased 6.8% in Q1 2023, from 740 in Q4 2022 to 790 events. As it has been for the past six quarters, ‘Software’ was the leading cause of recalls with 115 events. This was followed by ‘Safety’ concerns with 97 events, and ‘Device failures’ with 89 events.
  • Recalls of consumer electronics rose 11.5% to 87 events in Q1 2023. Lighting chains were the most recalled product, cited in 17 events – a dramatic increase from five recalls in Q4 2022. Accounting for almost half (47.1%) of all events, ‘Electric shock’ was the leading cause of recall activity.
  • European toy recalls fell by nearly a third (31.3%) in Q1 2023, from 217 events in Q4 2022 to 149. ‘Chemical’ was cited as the leading cause of recall activity (with 60 events), followed by Choking (with 49) which had been the leading cause throughout the second half of 2022.
  • There were 77 clothing recalls in Q1 2023, increasing just 2.7% from the 75 in Q4 2022. ‘Injuries’ dominated with 25 events alone, and 41 when combined with other causes such as ‘Strangulation’. Child and Infant clothing accounted for the greatest share of recall activity with 55 events (or 71.4% of all events).

What’s ahead in 2023

Regulatory changes that aim to modernise the existing regulatory framework are expected for both the medical device and pharmaceutical sectors. Businesses that operate in the UK and the EU will also face uncertainty around the UK’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, or “Brexit Freedoms Bill,” even with the removal of the sunset clause. Additionally, the EU’s proposed restriction on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has the potential to significantly impact companies across multiple industries.

Despite having different regulatory regimes, regulators in both the EU and the UK have plans to address similar issues in 2023. Businesses across Europe should ensure they are closely monitoring the regulatory environment and make a regular effort to shore up their existing product recall, crisis, and communications plans.

The European recall index is published every quarter by Sedgwick’s brand protection experts. It is the only report that aggregates and tracks recall data across the UK and EU to help industry stakeholders navigate the regulatory environment, product recalls, and other in-market challenges.

Learn more > To download the latest recall index report, click here.

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