Number of food product withdrawals in recent years
According to the data of Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, the withdrawals of food products have been on the increase in recent years. Data on withdrawals have been recorded more systematically since 2006. The recording of data has become somewhat more explicit over time, which means that the statistics of different years are not necessarily fully comparable. This should be taken into account when analysing the results. Statistics are useful, however, in providing information about the development of the trend.
Number of food product withdrawals in 2006–2013
Several reasons for increase in number of withdrawals
There are many reasons for the development of the number of withdrawals. Increased competition results in ever more different products and product variations being introduced to the market, which increases the risk of incorrect packaging; the product is changed on the production line, but the change of packaging material does not occur simultaneously. The development of in-house control implemented by operators has resulted in more specific guidelines for action and has also contributed to more systematic withdrawal processes. The role of social media has become more important making companies strive to communicate about withdrawals of their products more swiftly and openly. Control is risk-based and as a result, more products in violation of regulations are found than before. Consumers are also more prone to report product defects detected by them.
An analysis of withdrawals in recent years does not reveal any single product group or factor that would explain the constant increase in the total number. The different groups of causes all appear to grow steadily. The reasons for withdrawals are highly diverse, but in some years one specific reason has increased the total number of withdrawals that year. In 2010, for example, 18 unauthorised novel foods were withdrawn from the market, and in 2011, excessive amounts of sulphite or other additive defects were found in 17 food products.
The withdrawals in the spring of 2013 related to horse meat and untraceable beef, which in part resulted from fraudulent actions in the European food chain, brought 19 more cases to the statistics. The intentional concealment of the origin of beef for financial gain resulted in withdrawals of beef and products made from it in several European countries. This was an exceptional case and previously unprecedented in scope. The detection, in this same context, of horse meat in several domestic and foreign food products although not included in the list of ingredients, was a matter of considerably less severity. In many of these cases, it was a question of a labelling error and the origin of the raw material was known. These cases caused no health risks to consumers.
The total number of withdrawals carried out in Finland is affected by the focusing of annual control on certain sectors, and on the other hand, by supranational control efforts, which have had extensive spill-over effects also in Finland.
Various microbiological defects (moulds, salmonella, listeria and other bacteria) constitute one extensive group of causes and are common reasons for withdrawals. It is noteworthy that e.g. salmonella has hardly at all been found in foods of domestic origin. About 15% of all withdrawals are included in this group.
An allergen error is when a product contains an ingredient that causes allergy to some consumers, but the ingredient is not indicated in the labelling. The error can be due to the product being packed in the packaging of another product, a deficient list of ingredients, or contamination by the allergen at some point of production. The share of these errors has in the recent years increased to twenty percent already. If we also count cases where Finnish and/or Swedish labelling is missing completely from the product, the share increases even somewhat more.
Withdrawals are also every year caused by various foreign objects (often originating from production or packing equipment), excessive levels of plant and root vegetable protection agents and, occasionally, also inexplicable smell or taste defects in the products.
Withdrawals can be found on Internet
News releases are posted on Evira’s website (https://www.evira.fi/elintarvikkeet/takaisinvedot/) of the majority of withdrawals. News releases are usually not published about catering products, if the control authority can assume the withdrawal to be implemented effectively through internal communication and other measures in the distribution chain. Catering products have accounted for about ten percent of all withdrawals in 2010 – 2012; in 2013, they accounted for ca. fifteen percent.
The responsibility for informing consumers about withdrawn products primarily rests with the company that implements the withdrawal. Announcements in newspapers have been considered to provide a good tool to reach a wide consumer base. Apart from newspaper announcements, companies often also use their own websites and the social media for communication purposes.
Report suspicions to municipal health inspectors
Consumers who suspect a food product of not fulfilling the regulations pertaining to it and being therefore harmful to health should primarily contact the food control authorities of their own municipality. Contact information can be found at https://www.evira.fi/en/foodstuff/feedback-on-food/. In urgent cases, the store in which the product was purchased should also be informed about the product defect.