About food recalls
Food safety issues can arise even within the best-managed food business. In some cases these may lead to a food recall.
What a food recall achieves
A food recall isolates and removes unsafe or unsuitable food which is no longer under the manufacturer's direct control, and has passed into the control of others in the storage, distribution, retail, or consumer chain.
Who does what in a food recall
When a food safety problem is identified in a product that has been distributed beyond the manufacturer/importer, the manufacturer/importer must advise or warn the people affected, using a recall notice. This may include consumers, industry, or both.
The manufacturer /importer notifies their local Food Act Officer (FAO). The FAO works with the manufacturer/importer to decide whether a recall is necessary, with support from MPI.
If you are a manufacturer/importer, you should have a recall plan. See the 'Developing your recall plan' page in this section. If you have to conduct a recall, see the quick checklist on the 'Conducting a food recall' page. Use the menu to the left to find these pages.
2 types of food recalls
There are 2 types of food recalls, depending on whether the affected product has reached consumers yet:
- Trade recall
A trade level recall involves food product that has not been available for direct purchase by the general public. It removes an unsafe food product from the distribution chain, for example, distribution centres and wholesalers. It may also involve recovering the food from hospitals, restaurants and other catering establishments, and outlets that sell food manufactured for immediate consumption.
- Consumer recall
A consumer recall is more extensive than a trade recall. It recovers the food product from all points in the production and distribution network, including any affected product in the possession of consumers. Therefore, the public must be informed of a consumer recall. This is normally done through newspaper advertisements or other media (such as a press release or radio advertisement).
How a food recall can start
Food safety issues leading to recalls can include:
- consumers complaining about a product they've bought
- manufacturers, importers or distributors becoming aware of a problem and reporting it to MPI
- results from MPI's regulatory monitoring and surveillance
- advice from other sources, for example overseas regulatory authorities or media reports alert MPI to recalls overseas.
Deciding to conduct a recall
If there is a possibility that a food you manufacture or import is unsafe or unsuitable, and it is no longer under your direct control, always contact your local Food Act Officer. They will advise you to recall a food if a risk assessment shows it is:
- unsafe, and
- likely to affect public health.
To ensure that public health is protected at all times a food business must apply the precautionary principle when assessing risk. In short, this means that if there is doubt, err on the side of caution.
Specifically, if the information available indicates that the food could be a risk to human health, but the scientific evidence is inconclusive, then assume that it is a risk, and take appropriate action to control the risk.
For a step-by-step checklist on what to do in a recall, see the 'Conducting a food recall' page (in the menu to the left).
What a recall notice looks like
A consumer recall notice must display the following information:
- who is recalling the product
- what the product is (name, weight, batch/expiry date)
- what's wrong with it
- a 'do not consume' message
- a health warning and action (if applicable)
- where the product can be found (distribution)
- what action should be taken ('return to')
- who to contact for enquiries.
A food recall notice also has a set minimum size and format.
For an example of what a recall notice looks like, see the 'Recall advertisement templates' page. Use the menu to the left to find this page.
When a manufacturer conducts a food recall, MPI provides advice to them through their local Food Act Officer.
The Food Act Officer coordinates all recalls with MPI in accordance with strict guidelines. MPI must be satisfied that all reasonable steps are being taken to protect consumers.
The Minister for MPI (Food Safety) can order a recall under the Food Act 1981, if:
- MPI believes customer safety is being put at risk
- the manufacturer or food business is reluctant or slow to initiate or complete a recall.
A 'privileged statement' is a step higher than a recall.
MPI's CEO (Director-General) can make privileged statements to protect consumers and to inform the public under any of these Acts:
- The Food Act 1981
- The Animal Products Act 1999
- The Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997
- The Wine Act 2003.
Both recalls and privileged statements are public statements. The following factors influence MPI's decision to make a privileged statement rather than, or as well as, a recall:
- The need for urgency. If it is crucial that the public is informed with the absolute minimum of delay, MPI will issue a privileged statement. A recall may follow.
- If the manufacturer/importer of the product cannot be identified or contacted, and it is crucial that the public is informed without delay, MPI will issue a privileged statement.
- If the manufacturer/importer is failing to manage a recall, MPI may issue a privileged statement to correct inaccuracies that have been created.
- If the owner of the product is managing a recall appropriately, but there is a high level of public concern, MPI may issue a privileged statement to confirm to the public that all reasonable steps are being taken.
- MPI may decide to make a privileged statement in conjunction with a recall, to further inform the public.