The global rollout of several COVID-19 vaccines is welcome news for individuals and business. The rollout comes amid a dramatic increase in infection rates across North America and the return of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. In some particularly hard-hit sectors, such as food and beverage manufacturing, the arrival of vaccines has been met with an enormous sense of relief given the immense challenges the industry has faced in employee safety, productivity, and supply chain disruption.
Notable Recalls in 2020
While we have seen a reduction in the overall number of food and beverage recalls in 2020, this does not diminish the impact to public health. There are many notable recalls, and the most severe of these recalls deserve mentioning for the impact they had to public health. A few of them are:Enoki mushrooms for risk of Listeria monocytogenes
On March 9, 2020, Sun Hong Foods of Montello, CA and on March 23, 2020, Guan’s Mushroom Co of Commerce, CA recalled all cases of Enoki Mushroom (Product of Korea) due to the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Traceback investigation from the CDC showed that enoki mushrooms supplied by Green Co. LTD, located in the Republic of Korea, were the likely source of this outbreak. This outbreak resulted in 36 people infected with Listeria monocytogenes from 17 states. There were 31 hospitalizations reported, 4 deaths, and 6 pregnancy-related cases with 2 of those resulting in fetal loss. As of June 9, 2020, the outbreak appeared to be over.Sprouts for risk of E.coli O103
On March 16, 2020, Chicago Indoor Garden recalled all products containing red clover sprouts. The CDC reported that 51 people were infected from 10 states and 3 people were hospitalized. As a result of this outbreak, Jimmy John’s LLC temporarily stopped serving clover spouts in all its restaurants. As of April 22, 2020, the outbreak was considered over.Bagged salad mix for risk of Cyclospora
On June 27, 2020 Fresh Express issued a recall of branded and private label salad products produced at its Streamwood, IL facility due to the possible risk of Cyclospora. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 701 people from 14 states with laboratory confirmed Cyclospora infections associated with this outbreak including 38 people who were hospitalized. As of September 24, 2020, the outbreak appeared to be over according to the CDC.Deli meats for risk of Listeria monocytogenes
The CDC is investigating an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes with epidemiological evidence showing deli meats as the likely source. As of November 30, 2020, 11 illnesses have been reported from 3 States. All 11 infected people were hospitalized, and 1 death reported from Florida. As of December 4, investigators are working to identify a specific type of deli meat or a common supplier linked to the illness.Onions for risk of Salmonella
August 1, 2020, Thomson International, Inc. of Bakersfield, California, recalled red, yellow, white and sweet yellow onions due to the possible risks of Salmonella. These onions were distributed to wholesalers, restaurants and retail stores in all 50 states and Canada under several brand names.
The recall quickly expanded to retail outlets and restaurants for whole onions and products made with onions. The FDA and CDC warned against eating, selling or serving onions and advised to throw out the onions or any food product prepared with them. The FDA reported that 1012 people from 47 states became ill and at least 136 people hospitalized for Salmonella infections linked to onions. The FDA closed the recall at the end of September.Peaches for risk of Salmonella
On August 22, 2020, bagged, bulk, or loose peaches supplied to retailers nationwide by Prima Wawona or Wawona Packing Company were recalled due to an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections. Investigation of the outbreak to the company through WGS. Products containing these peaches were also part of the recall. The peaches recalled caused at least 101 cases of illness and 28 hospitalizations that were reported from 17 states.
2020 FDA/USDA Food & Bev Recalls by Category
In 2020, fruits and vegetables led the category for number of recalls followed by nuts and snack foods, and prepared foods.
Fruits and vegetables were recalled primarily for pathogens, in particular, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Cyclospora and E.coli. There were several recalls for fruits and vegetables containing sulfites or multi undeclared allergens.
Most of the recalls concerning nuts and snack foods were for undeclared allergens and only a few for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes or E.coli. There were a few jelly snack food items recalled for a choking hazard.
Prepared foods rounds out the top three categories for recalls in 2020. Most of these recalls were for undeclared allergens with a few for pathogens and one for foreign material contamination.
2020 FDA/USDA Food & Bev Recalls by Reason
In 2020, there was a total of 358 FDA and 42 USDA regulated food and beverage recalls, most products nationally distributed. Over 88% of all these recalls were attributable to foods adulterated with pathogens (36%) and undeclared allergens (52%) continuing the trend as the top reasons for recalls in this sector. Recalls declined from the beginning to the end of the year with 171 in Q1, 107 in Q2, 63 in Q3 and 49 in Q4. This decline may be attributable to relaxed regulatory scrutiny, oversight, and audits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the pathogen category, Salmonella (66) and Listeria monocytogenes (49) were the leading factors for recalls. Milk, tree nuts and products with multi undeclared allergens topped the list for undeclared allergens. For USDA recalls, 12 of the total 32 recalls were due to lack of proper inspection or import re-inspection. With the Biden administration, we may see a tightening of regulations and increased food safety measures, resulting in an increase in the number of recalls for 2021.
A Few Food & Beverage Challenges for 2021
This new year will undoubtedly bring with it many challenges for the food and beverage industry. Here a few thoughts on what the industry may face in 2021.
Keeping workers safe from the continuing issues related to COVID-19.
Maintaining food safety standard with less than standard resources.
With an increased interest in plant-based foods, manufacturers are introducing more prepared and ready-to-eat plant-based options to replace meat, dairy, and other food categories. This presents challenges in R&D, product formulation, processing, labelling and time to market to name a few.
During the continuing pandemic, many restaurants have had to close for indoor dining, and unfortunately, many have had to shut their doors for good. Some food manufacturers are having to reassess their business models to adjust for a decrease in food service and increase in retail demand. Some food manufacturers are looking to offer favourite restaurant meal solutions in the aisles of the grocery store.
FSMA food traceability rule to standardize the approach to track and trace food in every step of the supply chain, to enhance recordkeeping, and to provide a way for the food industry to adopt and leverage tech-enabled solutions.
- With the Biden Administration, new policies for food safety, re-establishment of pre-COVID regulatory oversight and increased enforcement of FSMA.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the critical nature of the global food manufacturing industry into clear focus and highlighted the essential role that food and beverage producers play in the maintenance of public health.
Businesses have seen that their long-standing practices of managing risk and responding to significant disruptions may no longer be sufficient to protect their personnel, assets, revenue and reputation.
Join Charles Hecker and Control Risks experts Caroline Naumann and Joseph Smith for a conversation about the unique challenges facing the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.