Labelling mistakes can lead to food recalls

By Marie Lewis

FoodStream offers can assist with checking the legal requirements for labels – link here 

You’ve researched your market, optimized your formulation, production, packaging and shelf life, your food safety system is in place, and manufacturing, distribution and retail channels have been secured. From concept to consumer, all bases have been covered for the successful launch and marketing of your new food product…or have they? If you haven’t precisely dotted the “i” in your product labelling, you might find that your product leaves the shelves much faster than anticipated, by way of a food product recall.

While about 35% of all food recalls in Australia are due to microbial contamination, non-compliant labelling comes a close second.  Between January 2002 and December 2011, 33% of all food recalls were due to errors in labelling. This trend has remained fairly constant. In the 12 months from March 2012 to February 2013, there were 16 labelling-related food recalls, which represents just over 30% of all food recalls.

Product recalls, as opposed to product withdrawals, are implemented when the product poses a health or safety risk to consumers.  Therefore, labelling related food recalls can be necessary when labels are missing mandatory warning or advisory statements, mandatory declarations about certain ingredients, or critical storage and preparation advice.

Undeclared allergens account for about 90% of labelling related recalls. In the formatting of ingredient lists sometimes it’s easy to overlook the presence of “hidden allergens” which can be contained in compound ingredients.  For example, wheat, a gluten-containing cereal, is contained in soy sauce. If soy sauce is used as a minor ingredient in the manufacture of a new product it is possible that the declaration of wheat may be neglected simply due to a lack of awareness.  Vigilance and accurate supplier ingredient specifications are imperative, particularly when formatting label information for products that contain compound ingredients.

Not only do food recalls reflect badly on the company concerned, they are expensive. The costs that a business may incur in recalling food include newspaper advertisements, stock recovery, stock value, additional testing/processing/packaging, and, in the case of products that can not be re-worked to an acceptable standard, stock disposal or destruction.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code permits food to be relabelled by placing a new label over the incorrect one provided that the new label is not able to be removed so that the incorrect information is visible.  Therefore foods with corrected labelling may be returned to the marketplace; however the costs associated with the additional handling and loss in shelf life could be considerable.

The product label is the primary interface between food suppliers and consumers, and the ideal is to get it right the first time. The process of completely and precisely dotting the “i” in your food product labelling starts with obtaining accurate and current ingredient specifications, knowing your product, identifying where it fits in the Food Standards Code and gaining a good understanding of the standards that apply to your product.






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