It’s not your imagination — the number of food recalls really has been rising.

According to a new USDA report, there were an average of 304 recalls between 2004 and 2008. Over the next five years, that number jumped to 676. More than 40% of those recalls were because of pathogens, while 27% were for undeclared allergens.

The USDA notes that the reasons for the huge jump in recalls are varied. First, there was more food sold between 2009 and 2013 than between 2004 and 2008. But other changes came into play as well.

For one, pathogen and risk detection technology has substantially improved, as can be seen in the move from pulsed-field gel electrophoresis to whole genome sequencing. The other reasons are regulatory. The second 5 years of the study saw the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) as well as the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), leading to increased regulatory oversight and enforcement. FALCPA in particular contributing to recalls due to undeclared allergens nearly doubling.

The report also notes the impact of recalls of common ingredients on multiple manufacturers. Over the 10-year period, 22.4% of all recalls arose from an upstream ingredient being recalled first.

These were the most commonly recalled food categories during the study period:

  • Prepared foods and meals (excluding soups): 11.9%
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut products: 10.9%
  • Baked goods (including packaged baked goods): 9.0%
  • Grains and grain products (excluding baked goods): 8.4 percent
  • Candy products: 7.9%
  • Sauces, condiments, and dressings: 5.0%


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