People in a country like India can never understand the logic behind frequent product recalls in the West citing safety reasons, as such a practice is rarely heard of in most developing countries. It is not that the foods made and retailed in these countries are repository of all virtues associated with quality and safety but absence of reliable, systematic and prompt reporting and documentation protocols in these countries allow almost all food poisoning cases to be swept under the carpet unless they are very serious involving high human casualties. In spite of tremendous progress achieved during the last two decades on surveillance and assessment technologies in the West, product recalls continue unabated mostly due to negligence with individual players and the safety authorities do not rule out such repeated recalls because of the impossible logistics involved in covering 100% of the industry. Against such a background, a trend is emerging where the reason for product recalls is shifting from microbial contamination to presence of dangerous allergens. As of now there does not appear to be any remedial regime to pre-empt such incidences except raising the awareness among the industry regarding the seriousness of such mishaps, intentional or otherwise.
Meat recalls during the first half of the year have taken on some unusual patterns. The number of recalls for pathogens found in beef, pork, and poultry has dropped off dramatically, while the recall of meat and meat products for allergens has spiked. And it's that increase in allergen-related recalls that worries Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's under secretary for food safety. She announced Thursday that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday was issuing instruction for its inspectors in an effort to stem the rise in undeclared allergens and other ingredients. "This rise is of particular importance to me both as a medical doctor and as a parent, especially as recent reports have shown that the number of children with allergies is on the rise," Hagen said. "FSIS will continue to improve its efforts to ensure that public health and labeling requirements are met. "FSIS reacted after seeing 27 recalls for undeclared ingredients in the first six months of 2011; 20 were the result of undeclared allergens. In the preceding two years combined, FSIS issued recalls for a total of 32 undeclared allergens.
It is unfortunate that the population affected by allergens is growing rapidly for which no one knows the reason. There are clear guidelines about the declaration of the presence of any of the 8 allergenic ingredients listed and even when the same machinery is used for processing such ingredients it must be declared on the label. While this trend is a consolation that microbial contamination controlling protocols are increasingly becoming reliable, the allergen problem needs utmost attention to bring it under control.