Why do we collect food recall data?
We collect data on Australian food recalls to identify trends and common issues in the food industry and help find ways to prevent future incidents.
An analysis of annual food recall statistics for the last 10 years is below. For statistics on allergen-related recalls see Undeclared allergen food recall statistics. Our statistics are updated annually.
Classification of food recalls
We classify food recalls based on the reason for the recall. Reasons include:
- Microbial contamination
- Foreign matter
- Chemical/other contaminants
- Undeclared allergen
Food recall statistics (1 January 2011 – 31 December 2020)
Figure 1: Food recalls by year 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020, FSANZ coordinated 763 recalls, including 109 recalls in 2020 (see Figure 1). The 10-year average increased from 71 to 76 recalls per year.
The volume of food recalled represents a very small proportion of the large amount of food products available in the Australian market. Most recalls are precautionary and initiated by food businesses to ensure that potentially unsafe food is removed from distribution and sale. Only a small amount of recalls are linked to a suspected or confirmed illness/injury.
An increase in the number of food recalls indicates that the system works to safeguard the food supply. Over time broader regulatory oversight, improved self-monitoring by food businesses and greater consumer vigilance have helped to strengthen problem detection. Continued advancements in food technology, analytical testing and traceability are also expected to influence the number of food recalls.
Figure 2: Food recalls by recall level 2011-2020
There are two levels of food recall – consumer and trade. A trade level recall is conducted when the food has not been available for direct purchase by the public, such as food sold to wholesalers and caterers. A consumer level recall is conducted when the food has been available for retail sale.
Between 2011 and 2020, consumer level recalls accounted for 86% of all food recalls and trade level recalls 14% (see Figure 2).
Table 1: Food recalls by year and classification 2011-2020
Figure 3: Food recalls by year and recall classification 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 most food recalls were due to undeclared allergens (321 recalls; 42%) and microbial contamination (195 recalls; 26%) as shown in Figure 3. Food recalls for undeclared allergens, microbial contamination, chemical/contaminant and other show an increasing trend. Food recalls for foreign matter are on a decreasing trend.
Undeclared allergen food recalls
Figure 4: Food recalls due to undeclared allergens by allergen 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 there were 321 food recalls due to undeclared allergens (see Table 1). The most common undeclared allergens were milk (93 recalls; 29%), multiple allergens (55 recalls; 17%) and peanut (54 recalls; 17%) as shown in Figure 4.
In 2016, FSANZ introduced additional post recall report questions to collect information on the root cause, problem detection and corrective action for undeclared allergen recalls. For more information please visit our Undeclared allergen food recall statistics page.
Figure 5: Food recalls due to undeclared allergens by food type 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 the most common food type associated with food recalls due to undeclared allergens was mixed and/or processed food (100 recalls; 31%) as shown in Figure 5. Mixed and or/processed foods include snack foods, custard powders and frozen meals. The second most common food to be recalled due to undeclared allergens was confectionery (46 recalls; 14%) followed by breads and bakery products (40 recalls; 12%).
Microbial contamination food recalls
Figure 6: Food recalls due to microbial contamination by microbe 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 there were 195 food recalls due to microbial contamination (see Table 1). As shown in Figure 6, the most common microbes were Listeria monocytogenes (65 recalls; 33%), Salmonella (48 recalls; 25%) and E. coli (42 recalls; 22%). Salmonella related recalls increased in 2020 due to multiple recalls associated with lettuce products.
Meat and meat products, dairy products and mixed and/or processed foods were the main food groups recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The food industry and government place a high priority on Listeria management in these sectors and undertake extensive product testing to monitor for contamination.
A wide range of foods are recalled due to Salmonella contamination. Eggs and fruits, vegetables and herbs were the most commonly recalled categories. Fruits, vegetables and herbs recalled due to Salmonella included lettuce, sprouts, rockmelon and dried herbs.
Dairy products are more commonly recalled due to concerns with process hygiene, indicated through E. coli testing, than other categories of food. Other products commonly recalled for E. coli include fresh sprouts and fermented sausages.
Foreign matter food recalls
Figure 7: Food recalls due to foreign matter recalls by foreign matter type 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 there were 103 recalls due to foreign matter (see Table 1). As shown in Figure 7, the most common types of foreign matter were metal (37 recalls; 36%), plastic (33 recalls; 32%) and glass (21 recalls 20%). Foreign matter recalls are showing a downward trend over the 10-year period.
Biotoxin food recalls
Figure 8: Food recalls due to biotoxins by biotoxin 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 there were 41 food recalls due to biotoxins (see Table 1). As shown in Figure 8 the most common biotoxins were Paralytic Shellfish Toxin (26 recalls; 63%) and hydrocyanic acid (7 recalls; 17%).
Recalls due to biotoxins occur periodically, with the numbers of recalls over the past 10 years ranging between 1 and 15 per year. In 2015, 14 recalls were due to shellfish contaminated with Paralytic Shellfish Toxin, accounting for more than half of all recalls for this biotoxin in the 10-year period.
Chemical and other contaminant food recalls
Figure 9: Food recalls due to chemical and other contaminants by chemical/contaminant 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 there were 22 recalls for chemical and other contaminants (see Table 1). The most common contaminants were other contaminants (10 recalls; 45%) and cleaning/sanitising agent (6 recalls; 27%) as shown in Figure 9.
Food categories associated with food recalls
Figure 10: Food recalls by food category 2011-2020
Between 2011 and 2020 the most commonly recalled foods were mixed and/or processed food (see Figure 10). This is likely due to the wide range of foods that are categorized under this heading, including most long-life packaged food and manufactured items that contain multiple ingredients. Fruit, vegetables and herbs is the second most recalled food category and bread and bakery products the third. Bread and bakery products include breads, biscuits, cakes and pastries.