Food recall reporting ‘hugely inconsistent’, finds Trace One

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food standards agency

High-profile food scares are tip of the Iceberg, says Trace One
High-profile food scares are tip of the Iceberg, says Trace One
Reporting and recording of food recalls is ‘hugely inconsistent’ because local authorities do not have to tell the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), according to Trace One.

The product recall firm said it found a council in Wales has acted 63 times to remove unsafe products from sale in the past two years: none of which were reported to the FSA.

Trace One performed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the FSA asking whether it kept records of food recalls made by retailers beyond those on the “Food Alerts” section of its website.

FSA reported 1,604 incidents in 2012 but only 116 were published on the website. Those ranged from incorrect labelling, chemical or microbiological contamination, to unauthorised ingredients.

A local concern?

Findings showed that some food safety incidents are not reported to the FSA, due to their local nature.

40% of local authorities surveyed do not record such incidents: meaning that there is no way of knowing the true scale of the issue, said Trace One.

FSA said it acted if it was notified of products sold on a national level, which pose a risk to consumers or breach food safety legislation.

The agency said that actions in local cases would be by local authorities and while the FSA would receive confirmation, it did not keep an official list.

When contacted by FoodQualityNews.com, the agency directed us to its food code.

“Localised food hazardsshould be dealt with locally by the food authority, in conjunction with other relevant agencies and need not be reported to the agency​,” says the code.

“Serious localised food hazards and non-localised food hazardsshould be notified by the food authority to the agency and other relevant agencies at the earliest opportunity and by the quickest available means…”

Lack of consistency

Nick Martin, senior VP Northern Europe for Trace One, told us that it was interested in what happened behind the scenes.

“To be honest, the number of incidents that don't result in FSA alerts was not a huge surprise: what was, was the lack of consistency in how incidents are recorded and reported.

“Reasons included incorrect use-by dates, goods being past their sell-by date, infestations, microbiological infestations, and one example of "unable to distinguish type of food"."

Martin said that there were many systems that could work but the crucial thing was that any system ensured reporting and recoding information is consistent and transparent.

“The FSA shouldn't need to publicise every single recall as not every recall will affect every consumer [but] there should be consistency and transparency in reporting so that consumers can learn of local recalls when necessary.

"The FSA is right to draw a line: the issue is less publicising every single incident, which would simply result in a flood of information, and more making sure that information is available when needed. 

“In particular, there needs to be obvious guidelines for local authorities on how to record and report actions taken so that customers are not left in the dark."

Another FoI Request of the 35 most populous local authorities asked whether they reported every withdrawal of food from sale to the FSA, whether they recorded ones not reported; and the number and reasons for those withdrawals from August to July 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

For local authorities incorrect labelling or expired use-by dates accounted for 82% of reported recalls concentrated in a few areas. Other reasons for action ranged from pest infestations, to contaminated products and hygiene concerns.  

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