INDIANAPOLIS — Public gatherings aren’t the only activity hampered by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Food product recalls also took a hit during the first quarter of 2020, Stericycle Expert Solutions said in its First Quarter 2020 Recall Index.
Stericycle collects and analyzes data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
USDA recalls dropped 78.6% to just six recalls in the first quarter, Stericycle said. Just over 22,500 lbs of product were affected, a more than 99.4% decrease compared with the previous quarter.
Four recalls were due to undeclared allergens while more than half the pounds recalled were due to the lack of an inspection, the Index said. Half the number of USDA recalls impacted beef products and seafood products.
“While the number of USDA recalls may seem low in comparison to recent months, in fact, they remain consistently high in a historic context,” Stericycle said in its Recall Index. “Going back to 2009 through 2014, for example, recorded meat recalls typically totaled five or six for an entire year. Once the federal government imposed stricter reporting requirements starting in 2015, however, that number started to rise to today’s current levels.”
The FDA announced 141 recalls impacting more than 8.8 million units, Stericycle said, which represents a 9.6% decrease in the number of recall events for the quarter. However, the figure remains in line with the average number of quarterly recalls over the last three years, the company noted.
The FDA cited undeclared allergens as the top cause of food recalls for the 11th consecutive quarter, accounting for 39.7% of recalls. But more product units overall were recalled for bacterial contamination for the second consecutive quarter accounting for 58.1% of recalled units.
Prepared foods were the leading product category impacted in terms of both events (29.8%) and units impacted (32.5%). Stericycle found that 27.7% of bacterial contamination recalls were prepared foods, and of all recalls resulting from undeclared allergens 37.5% were prepared foods.
Products distributed nationwide accounted for 19.9% of the FDA fresh and processed food recalls, while 133 unique companies issued recalls in the first quarter, with seven companies announcing more than one recall.
“While it may be too early to tell whether recalls will drop for the duration of the second quarter across the board, we’re more confident that a spike will occur in the months after enforcement discretion and emergency authorizations are lifted, regulatory officials get back on the road and inspectors return to the field,” said Chris Harvey, director of recalls at Stericycle. “Anything that may have slipped through the cracks will be rectified. What companies need to worry about is the reputational hit of a recall announced two months too late. Not to mention the fact that recalls will be harder to execute if consumers are still in a panic about COVID-19.”