Food packaging errors are responsible for most product recalls in ANZPosted on August 11th, 2020 in Industry News
Incorrect labelling of products is the most common reason for food and beverage recalls in Australia and New Zealand, according to new data from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
This had led to calls for stricter regulations on food packaging to force companies to improve their labelling practices and take greater responsibility for their customers’ health and safety, particularly when it comes to undeclared allergens.
40% of recalls due to undeclared allergens
Errors on packaging labels were responsible for the majority (56 percent) of food recalls from 2016 to 2018, according to FSANZ data published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. Most of these labelling errors involved the failure to declare ingredients that can potentially cause adverse reactions in people with certain allergies.
The data also showed that 16 percent of recalls were due to supplier verification issues and only 10 percent were due to cross-contact contamination during manufacturing – previously assumed to be the primary reason for food recalls.
As the data only includes reported incidents, the real number of people having allergic reactions or getting sick due to mislabelled packaging is likely higher still, and this appears to be a growing problem in ANZ.
Call for stricter packaging standards
The ongoing problem of food packaging errors putting the public at risk has led to experts such as University of Melbourne research fellow Dr Giovanni Zurzolo to call on the industry to improve labelling practices and on governments to enforce stronger legislation.
While there are already regulations governing ingredient labels on food and beverage packaging in Australia and New Zealand, precautionary labels warning about allergens are currently optional. Dr Zurzolo proposes introducing a standardised risk assessment process that all manufacturers must follow to help lower the risks for allergic consumers.
Food brands have the responsibility of warning their customers about the possible presence of any allergens that may be detected during processing through hazard analysis, but packaging tends to be given a lower priority in the supply chain, with safety precautions focusing on the preparation of the food itself.
Financial cost of recalls
As well as harming their brand’s reputation by risking their customers’ health, product recalls have more direct consequences for food and beverage companies.
The direct cost of food recalls to brands is around AU$16 million on average, according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). However, this only covers immediate costs involved in the retrieval, disposal and replacement of the product. The longer-term indirect costs – such as loss of sales, reduced customer loyalty and the possibility of lawsuits from affected customers – can sometimes be even greater.
Some of the most expensive food recall horror stories of the last decade involved New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra being forced to pay NZ$183 million after suspected botulism-causing bacteria was detected in whey products and Australian frozen food brand Patties having to dispose of AU$3.8 million worth of frozen berries contaminated with Hepatitis A, along with compensation payments to victims.
How food brands can reduce recalls
FSANZ data reveals that there were 707 food product recalls across Australia and New Zealand between 2010 and 2019, for reasons ranging from undeclared allergens and other packaging errors to microbial contamination during processing.
While accidents will always happen, food and beverage manufacturers need to ensure that appropriate checks are in place across the whole manufacturing, processing and packaging chain to minimise the risks to their customers and their business.
While a reliable quality assurance team can catch most labelling errors, investing in digital technologies can bring human error down to zero. Technologies to consider include:
Vision inspection systems
Automated inspection systems can be programmed to detect specific labelling errors that you’re concerned about. The system will then capture and dispose of all defective products that don’t meet the approved criteria, so these won’t reach stores and customers.
Digital supply chain monitoring
The longer the supply chain from manufacturing to packaging and shipping is, the more chances there are for problems to happen. If you’re working with third-party contractors, there may also be a risk of food fraud or lax practices putting your own company at risk.
Intelligent monitoring systems enable manufacturers to receive real-time data from all stages of the supply chain, including alerts if normal procedures aren’t being followed or errors are detected. This puts contractors under greater scrutiny and lowers health risks to consumers and liability for your business.
Introducing automation not only speeds up picking, packing and processing times, it also makes these processes safer and more reliable. Purchasing these systems is a big investment that should be balanced against the likely improvements to efficiency and profit margins.
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