WASHINGTON — Stericycle Expert Solutions in its recently issued Recall Insights Report Edition 2, 2020, which examined government product recalls across major business sectors during the second quarter of the current year, said Food and Drug Administration food recalls in April-June, the first full quarter affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, were down sharply from the first quarter of 2020 while US Department of Agriculture meat recalls were higher.
Stericycle said the number of FDA food recalls during the second quarter of 2020 totaled 79, down 44% from 141 recalls in January-March 2020. The recalls affected more than 7.8 million units, a decrease of 11.5% from the 8.8 million units affected by recalls in the first quarter of 2020.
Stericycle said the decline in the number of recalls was not surprising given the FDA’s “limited regulatory oversight activities over the last four months” as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation.
To compare the 2020 second quarter with another quarter marked by constrained FDA oversight, Stericycle said the number of recalls in the second quarter this year was 20% lower than in the first quarter of 2019, when the government was shut down for a month.
Undeclared allergens remained the top reason for FDA food recalls for the 12th consecutive quarter, Stericycle said. Thirty-four recalls during the second quarter were attributed to undeclared allergens, accounting for 43% of all recalls. Of those 34 recalls, more than one-third involved undeclared milk.
“Mold was the top cause of recalled units for the first time in our tracking of this data, accounting for 86.8% of recalled units,” Stericycle said. “This was the result of one recall of French onion dip, affecting nearly all mold-related unit recalled.”
Bacterial contamination was the cause of 13 recalls in the second quarter compared with 36 in the first quarter. “In both cases, listeria was the most common contaminant,” Stericycle observed.
Stericycle noted the 13 second-quarter 2020 recalls due to bacterial contamination comprised the lowest quarterly number for that cause that it has observed in more than a decade of monitoring the data.
Produce was the top product category affected in terms of number of recalls in the second quarter at 19%. At the same time, prepared food recalls affected the most units recalled at 88.1%.
In addition to the report on April-June recall activity, Stericycle provided an insight into recalls during July.
“FDA food recalls remained on a downward trend in July with just 26 recalls,” Stericycle said. “Undeclared allergens were the leading cause with 12 recalls, while the presence of foreign material accounted for 5 recalls.”
The USDA required 9 recalls in the second quarter of 2020 compared with 6 recalls in January-March. The second-quarter recalls affected about 672,000 lbs of meat compared with 22,500 lbs of product affected by recalls in January-March.
Stericycle observed, “Quarterly recall activity (in 2020) remains down significantly with an average 7.5 recalls a quarter compared with an average quarterly volume of more than 30 recalls over the last three years.”
Stericycle said foreign material and no inspection each caused about one-third of recalls, while 69.6% of lbs recalled were due to foreign material.
USDA recalls in the second quarter most often affected poultry products, representing 44.4% of all recall events and 73.9% of all lbs recalled.
Looking at July developments, Stericycle said, “USDA recalls inched upward in July with four recalls, all due to the lack of inspection. This could signal significant gaps in regulatory oversight that are resulting in missed food safety issues.”