Basic Information On Product Recalls

As consumers, we have become accustomed to having most of our food pre-packged in some form or other, and we also have confidence in the information on the packaging regarding the food inside i.e. its nutritional content, the additives and colourings it contains, and its “use by” date, among others. One of the reasons for this level of confidence is the publicity that has surrounded past instances of unsafe food being sold to the general public. This has served to educate us to expect that, in the rare instances where food does not meet the required standards, the product will be recalled and consumers advised, usually through the general media.

Most of us are unaware of the actual process involved in recalling a product from sale, but like any industry where standards have been developed and are expected to be followed, there are very clear guidelines for food businesses to follow. Food packaging is such a critical part of the food industry that constant recalls through safety issues, either from faulty packaging or contaminated content, would severely damage consumer confidence and jeopardise the profitability of many suppliers.

The subject matter around food recalls is quite large, but there are a few basic concepts and definitions that are useful for any consumer who wants to understand the process a little better. One of the first points of confusion is the difference between a product recall and a product withdrawal:

  • Recall - occurs when the issue is one of food safety

  • Withdrawal - refers to action taken through quality or ethical concerns

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have developed a protocol to enable food businesses to plan for and respond to a incident. This protocol only applies to recalls and not product withdrawals. Food businesses are legally required to have a written plan in place to deal with a food recall incident, and the protocol gives them a structured method to follow to achieve this.

For a voluntary recall, the process starts with information received from one or more sources, such as a manufacturer, supplier, government agency or consumer that alerts the food supplier to a problem. The food supplier is then responsible for issuing a recall. Where there is serious public health and safety risk, the Commonwealth minister for consumer affairs and/or the relevant State and Territory governments have the legislative power to order a food product recall. In this case it is known as a mandatory recall.

The protocol document is publicly available to consumers from the FSANZ website. Food safety is a crucial part of our food supply and everyone involved, from manufacturers to packaging suppliers to retailers have a responsibility to the public to maintain consumer confidence in our food supply.