Another Record Year for Recalls – 2018 in Review

Posted in Recall Management

As of December 2018, there have been over 650 recalls of FDA and USDA regulated food products.  Of the total, 534 recalls involved FDA regulated products, and 122 involved USDA regulated products. Collectively, these recalls have involved nearly 125,000,000 million pounds of food, not counting the 223 recalls (33%) for which the total weight of recalled product remains unknown.  By all measures, the total volume of all recalls in 2018 likely surpasses the 2008 Hallmark recall and, makes 2018 one of the largest recall years in U.S. history.  

The most expansive recall this year, which involved pet food, totaled 74,538,358 pounds.  The product, subject to a Class III recall, was recalled for the presence of pentobarbital.  The second largest recall, which totaled 17,249,347 pounds, involved beef products allegedly contaminated with Salmonella.  Combined, these two recalls accounted for 75 percent of the total known weight recalled for the entire year. 

With that background, the average weight among tabulated recalls was 283,456 pounds.  This may be somewhat misleading, however, given the size of the two largest recalls. Indeed, only 26 of 433 recalls (6%) exceeded 280,000 pounds.  In turn, if we remove those two largest recalls from the calculus, the average recall size drops to a more realistic 71,512 pounds.  The median was 5,055 pounds.  These are important numbers to consider when determining how much recall insurance your company may want to purchase need for next year.  On the other end of the spectrum, the smallest recall was for a half-pound of cookies alleged to contain an undeclared allergen. 

In 2018, there were a total of 213 recalls announced for pathogen concerns (or, approximately 19 per month).  This equates to approximately one third of the total recalls this year.  Salmonella was responsible for more than half (122) of the pathogen-related recalls.  Of these, 105 involved FDA regulated products, and 17 involved USDA products. Listeria monocytogenes accounted for the second largest number (95) of pathogen-related recalls. Of these, 74 involved FDA regulated products, and 21 involved USDA regulated products. E. coli came in third (8 FDA and 9 USDA) cyclospora was fourth (9 FDA); and clostridium botulinum was fifth (5 FDA and 1 USDA).   

The when is just as interesting as the why.  Evaluating the recalls on a month-by-month basis offers additional interesting insight.  On average (excluding December), there were approximately 58 recalls per month (47 FDA and 11 USDA).  October, by most metrics, was the worst month of the year.  October had the most recalls (92), the most pathogen-related recalls (41), the second most non-pathogen related recalls (51), and the most USDA recalls (25).  March was the next worst, with the second most recalls (88), second most pathogen-related recalls (33), most non-pathogen related recalls (55) and most FDA recalls (74).  

Conversely, November saw the fewest recalls (42).  February and June had the fewest pathogen-related recalls (9 and 10, respectively).  June also had the fewest number of FDA recalls (32).  Click here for the FIC 2018 Recall Summary Spreadsheet which provides an overview of the year with some key stats. 

We hope you find this information interesting and helpful as you look toward the new year.  We also remain hopeful that, next year, we can report that your efforts were successful, and the number of food product recalls will be trending lower.  In the meantime, we wish each of you happy holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a safe and prosperous New Year.