Fourth-eight million — 48,000,000 — that’s how many people the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates become sick from foodborne illness each year in the United States. Another 128,000 people end up hospitalized and about 3,000 people die.
Exact figures are hard to pinpoint because so many foodborne illness incidents are not reported. The CDC estimates 31 foodborne pathogens are responsible for 9.4 million of the illnesses every year.
Such staggering statistics show the detrimental consequences food safety lapses can have on human health and society. Compromised food safety can also trigger a costly chain reaction of recalls, lawsuits and loss of business due to damaged consumer trust.
The not so hidden cost of recalls
In a 2011 report sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, researchers set out to determine the monetary costs of recalls in the food industry by surveying 36 companies.
“For companies that have faced a recall in the past five years, 77 percent of respondents estimated the financial impact to be up to $30 million dollars; 23 percent reported even higher costs,” according to the GMA report.
“Over 81 percent of survey respondents described the financial consequences of a recall as either ‘significant’ or “catastrophic.’ ”
According to those surveyed, the four biggest financial exposures were lost profits from business interruption, recall execution costs, liability risks and reputation damage.
Recalls are increasing – due to operational error
In its annual recall wrap up for 2016, Food Safety News found 764 food recalls – an increase of 22 percent from the previous year. Almost 40 percent of recalls, 305, were triggered by undeclared allergens in products. Milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat were the top undeclared allergens – all four showing increases in incident numbers from the previous year.
In research by Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 10 years’ worth of recalls in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland were analyzed, finding most recalls were due to operational error.
“Most recalls, 56 percent, resulted from operational mistakes, such as incorrect labelling, the presence of an undeclared ingredient, or contamination during the production process,” reported Antony Potter at Queen’s Centre for Assured and Traceable Foods.
“While biological causes, such as the detection of Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli were also a factor, a significant number of food safety alerts were actually due to food fraud and corruption by suppliers further down the supply chain. This highlights the need for food producers to invest in ensuring the traceability of their products back through the supply chain.”