Recalls of poultry products in the UK have reached their highest levels since 2002. Product recall experts Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS say that as many as nine out of ten poultry products recalled may contain bacteria that could have killed had the goods been consumed. According to the Stericycle Q2 Recall and Notification Index, salmonella was the main culprit leading to contamination.

Stericycle vice-president for the Europe, Middle East, and Asia regions Farzad Henareh helped to shed some light on why recalls are currently so high, and whether it is cause for concern.

Elliot Gardner: Have poultry recall numbers steadily climbed, or has there been a large spike?

Farzad Henareh: It is a large spike, which actually commenced at the start of Q1 this year. It is linked back to the Brazilian meat scandal. However, the issue did not just affect poultry. Poultry is the highest impact area from a meat perspective.

The scandal is that exporters allegedly bribed officials to overlook the usual and typical quality monitoring processes, and that resulted in contaminated products such as expired meats entering the global product market.

EG: So, is Brazil the top contributor of problems globally right now?

FH: Yes, absolutely the top contributor. In the UK, for example, 31 of the 33 poultry recalls in the last count were linked back to Brazil in some way. If you look at the European index as a whole, there are 184 recall notifications linked back to Brazil, and the next highest is 70, which is Spain. Looking at the top five countries it is only Spain that is in Europe. The rest are non-European: Brazil, India, Turkey, and China.

EG: At a time when the UK is looking for external trading partners, do you see this affecting the opinion of non-EU meats on the market?

FH: Obviously there are other priorities focused on during Brexit, trade being high on the priority list. Safety is being discussed, but it is difficult to predict how everything will be impacted. I personally expect that the UK will continue to work very closely with European platforms. It is a really great way to ensure that all of the different local bodies and authorities are rapidly informed of issues, particularly with issues within the European landscape.

Unfortunately it is quite difficult to predict how Brexit will impact product safety as a whole. It is good to see that the UK continues to collaborate very closely with the European Commission (EC). There is a central notification platform that has been set up by the EC called the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). Wherever a product safety risk arises, the local authority quickly notifies this platform and all of the other country’s regulatory frameworks are immediately informed. The UK collaborates very closely with this alert system and we see RASFF even working closely with the food safety authorities in North America, as well as other regions of the world, so we hope that continues.

EG: What are the other problem areas other than poultry?

FH: Aflatoxins is another area in the food sector that we see repeatedly coming back, as it affects products in ways that you can’t really see. Aflatoxins are a family of toxins from a fungus that impact soil-grown products such as nuts and seeds, but also vegetables.

So that is in the top three, and then there is fish and fish products, where typically you see high levels of mercury causing a danger to consumers, and of course poultry. So the top three problem areas are poultry meat, fish, and aflatoxins.

EG: These numbers are the highest for poultry meats for 15 years. Are all food recall numbers rising?

FH: The numbers are quite steady, but steadily increasing. Typically the number of food recalls is around the 750 mark every quarter in Europe. This quarter is particularly high because of the Brazilian scandal, so you see an influx; 960 versus the typical 750.

The steady increase can be linked back to many factors. Obviously population is increasing, and at the same time regulatory bodies are increasing the strength of their quality monitoring frameworks. That leads to ultimately more recalls. It is not necessarily a bad thing to see a higher number of recalls, because it means that harmful products are actively being withdrawn from the market.

We will always face recalls. There are a lot of factors that manufacturers cannot control, with suppliers in the production phase, imports / exports being part of the process, and the complex supply chain.

There are two important things that can mitigate the risk even further, traceability and a solid recall plan. We see that many manufacturers do not have a recall plan in place, but if you have a plan that you can quickly activate when there is an issue it ensures that unsafe products are removed from the market rapidly.

EG: What do you predict for the future of food recalls?

FH: It is important to remember that recalls are inevitable. As regional authorities work closely together, we expect the numbers to further increase. With innovations taking place in manufacturing processes and with technological innovation in general, we expect recalls to further increase.

Typically what you see is when new processes are introduced quality standards are in essence playing catch-up. You always see a new crop of recalls taking place until the quality standards are developed to a stage to where it mitigates the majority of risk. So we expect to see that rise to continue.

Now with the online market, allowing consumers to purchase products online, it’s easier to get hold of products, which adds to the risk. Manufacturers need to look at how they are going to keep products safe in warehouses. Amazon’s purchase of Wholefoods has the potential to completely change the dynamic of the grocery market as a whole; it is going to be an interesting one to follow.