Microbiological problems and undeclared allergens caused the major food recalls in 2015, continuing a pattern that has now persisted for well over two years, according to the latest food recall report by SAGE Food Safety Consultants.

Although food recalls remained steady or declined slightly from 2014, problems with undeclared allergens and Listeria contamination continued to plague food production. In the US, recalls by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declined slightly from the previous year, although meat recalls by the US Department of Agriculture increased. Canadian and European food recalls decreased modestly from 2014 levels.

"The 2015 recall data, compiled and analyzed by SAGE from reports of government agencies in America, Canada, and the European Union, show a persistently troubling problem: microbiological contamination, and the widespread presence of undeclared allergens where they shouldn't be, reflect a food supply that is generally safe but also chronically vulnerable," said SAGE President Gale Prince.

Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella contaminations declined slightly in 2015 from the previous year. However, allergen contaminations increased across the food industry in 2015. A large-scale spice recall that began in 2014 continued in 2015 due to the presence of peanut protein in a commonly used industrial spice mix. Additionally, many recalls were prompted by inaccurate ingredient labels, in which an allergen wasn't listed on the product label.

Allergen-related issues also were present in recalls in Canada and Europe. Products with undeclared milk led to numerous recalls, as did chemical contaminations of seafood, grain and produce in European markets.

Prince said the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which takes full effect in 2016, may help address these problems by requiring more proactive food safety measures to prevent recalls. "Food companies must have a total food safety plan in place, along with a recall procedure, and they must aggressively monitor their supply sources, production, packaging and shipping procedures to limit the chances of contamination," Prince said. "If they don't, they could face serious regulatory action." Prince noted that the recall data in the report can provide valuable information for companies looking for ways to reduce contamination vulnerabilities in food production. "Listeria, for example, is very difficult to find in a plant setting," Prince said. "The recall data should provide added impetus for manufacturers to double their efforts to locate places where Listeria might be present, and remove the threat."

Discover more about the report.