Apr 25, 2024 - Business

Food recalls reach highest level since before pandemic

Data: U.S. PIRG Education fund analysis of FDA and USDA data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Food recalls reached their highest level last year since before the pandemic, according to a new report released Thursday.

Why it matters: Outbreaks linked to recalled food products sickened 1,100 people and killed six in 2023, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund report found.

The big picture: Two of 2023's biggest recalls involved lead-tainted applesauce that sickened at least 500 children nationwide and cantaloupe contaminated with Salmonella that led to 400 illnesses.

By the numbers: Food and beverage recalls increased 8% overall in 2023 to 313 compared to 289 the previous year, Teresa Murray, PIRG consumer watchdog, told Axios.

  • A quarter of 2023 recalls were caused by Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli or contamination from other dangerous bacteria.
  • 49% of 2023 recalls stemmed from undeclared allergens, a 27% increase from 2022.

Context: One reason for the increase in allergen recalls is as of Jan. 1, 2023, manufacturers had to disclose sesame in their foods, Murray said.

  • The most common undeclared allergens — wheat, shellfish, eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts and soybeans — account for 90% of all food allergic reactions, according to the USDA.

What we're watching: "They were just a shocking number that had multiple undeclared allergens," Murray told Axios of last year's recalls. "And that just tells me that that's sloppiness."

  • "These are important issues that clearly the food manufacturers and the food producers are not paying enough attention to," Murray said.

Yes, but: While recalls were up in 2023, they were still below 2020, when there were 391 recalls. Many of the 2020 recalls happened in the first three months, Murray said.

  • The drop was pandemic related, Murray said, noting recalls are expected to continue to rise.

Recall alerts: How to find out about recalls

Zoom in: Companies are not required to tell consumers when products have been recalled so it's important for consumers to look for recall notices to protect themselves and families, Murray said.

  • Murray suggests using a free phone app like "Food Recalls & Alerts," available for Apple and Android, to get FDA, USDA and pet food recall notifications.
  • The government's food safety website is another place to check for recalls, Murray said.

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