Food and beverage

U.S. sector spotlight

The Sedgwick brand protection recall index is the essential reference for food and beverage manufacturers seeking impartial and reliable perspective on past, present, and future product recall data and safety trends.

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There were 52.1 million units impacted by U.S. food and beverage recalls in 2021, almost double the 27.4 million we saw in 2020.

The latest edition of our highly coveted product recall index report offers a comprehensive year-in-review of 2021 food and beverage product recall data and trends, and insightful predictions for the remainder of 2022. It is the only report of its kind that aggregates and tracks essential data to help food and beverage business leaders mitigate litigation and reputational damage caused by product recalls and other in-market product incidents.

While we strongly recommend you download and read the whole index, the following excerpt provides a glimpse into the key insights and analysis from the food and beverage sector.

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U.S. food and beverage recalls fell in 2021


undeclared allergens: leading recall cause


impacted food and beverage units in 2021

The U.S. food and beverage landscape

For the food and drink industry, all signs indicate that food regulation will tighten in 2022. The grace period that the FDA seems to have allowed companies to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) looks to be over and inspections are increasing.

While the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint remains a driving force for the industry, several new proposals were rolled out in 2021. These included the FDA’s Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan, which it described as “an important step that the FDA is taking to enhance the speed, effectiveness, coordination and communication of outbreak investigations.” The Plan makes it clear that manufacturers will see significant changes in reporting and tracing regulations in 2022 and beyond.

Additionally, the major food allergen list was expanded for the first time in 17 years with the addition of sesame. That brings the list of major allergens subject to labeling requirements up to nine. Companies should be fully aware and comply with labeling requirements for allergens. Such action will likely lessen regulatory pressure and undoubtedly help prevent litigation.

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Recall index report

Get unrivaled analysis and perspective on the latest food and beverage product safety trends and regulation.

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By the numbers: 2021 U.S. food and beverage recalls

FDA product recalls

A massive outbreak of salmonella in whole onions led to a 1,547% increase in units recalled in the fourth quarter, compared to the quarter prior. Of the 126 recall events recorded in quarter four, 14 of them were related to salmonella in onions. Among the 39.4 million units recalled, 91.9 million of them were connected to onions.

In addition to this huge rise in recalled units, the number of FDA product recall events in quarter four also increased (34.0%), taking the total number to 126. Despite this increase, 2021 saw four fewer recalls overall compared to 2020, with 414 and 418 respectively. This marks the fewest number of annual product recall events for the past 11 years.

Consistent with previous quarters, the 46 Class I recalls in the fourth quarter made up 36.5% of events. Undeclared allergens remained the leading cause of product recall events for the 25th time in the last 28 quarters with 42 events. Despite being the cause for 33.3% of the events, recalls due to allergen-related concerns accounted for only 0.4% of all related units because of the surge with onions.

Produce was the top category impacted by fourth quarter recalls, both in terms of events and units. It was linked to 31 product recalls (24.6%) and 36.3 million units (92.0%) for the quarter.

USDA product recalls

The number of USDA recalls fell slightly in the fourth quarter to 12, a 7.7% drop. While this is low compared to fourth-quarter results from 2016 to 2019, compared to 2020 it is 71.4% higher for the respective quarter. Overall, 2021 saw 47 USDA product recalls, or 46.9% more than in 2020 for the full year. After a spike in the number of pounds recalled in the third quarter, figures dropped by 88.5% in the fourth quarter to 1.2 million pounds. While lower than the third quarter, this figure is nearly 300% higher compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.

Bacterial contamination concerns remained the leading cause of product recalls in the fourth quarter in terms of events (four incidents were recorded). In terms of pounds, a single recall for lead contamination in beef reported as “other contamination,” was the reason for the largest number of pounds of food recalled, with 684,774 pounds in the recall, accounting for 55.8% of all volume. Pork products were the most impacted category in the fourth quarter of 2021 with five recall events, or 41.7% of all recalls.

The USDA classified 10 of the fourth quarter food recalls as Class I and the other two as Class II.

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Recall index report

Get unrivaled analysis and perspective on the latest food and beverage product safety trends and regulation.

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2022 strategic considerations

While product recall numbers are important, they are only part of the story. Here's what you should take away from food and beverage product safety developments in 2022:

  • With greater focus on tracking and tracing food when there is a product recall, companies should review the guidelines and start planning for how their operations and reporting structures will adapt. Are you prepared for more reporting and tracing regulations? Are there new technologies you need to integrate into your processes? Have you reviewed the guidelines and made necessary changes to comply?
  • The FDA has signaled that it is shifting from education to enforcement of FSMA regulations and increasing inspections, including examining companies’ food safety culture. The agency now wants to see written programs and policies in place. And if companies don’t have them, the FDA will take action. Have you defined your organization’s food safety culture? Have you put together a proactive plan to comply with the requirements and train employees?
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Recall index report

Get unrivaled analysis and perspective on the latest food and beverage product safety trends and regulation.

Download the report

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Whether you’re planning for — or currently facing — a product recall, market withdrawal or any other in-market product incident, our experts are on hand to support you.

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