Overview of Food Recalls in Europe in 2021

It took us a little while to count and classify a whopping 1481 food recalls reported in 2021 in Europe. This represents a 27% increase from 2020, which shows that European authorities are implementing tighter controls and regulations.

Type of product recalled

The main product category recalled last year was fruits and vegetables, representing 13% of all recall notifications. Some of the most important issues affecting these products were excessive levels of certain pesticides, such as Chlorpyrifos and Ethylene Oxide. Turkey and Egypt were among the main countries of origin of these products.

Dietetic foods, food supplements and fortified foods came in second place, representing 10% of the food recalled, while cereals and bakery products came in third, making up 8.5% of the recalls.

Reasons for recall

Excessive levels of Chlorpyrifos, Ethylene Oxide and other pesticides started being reported in Europe at the end of 2020, and notifications continued all the way through 2021. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that 41% of products recalled last year were due to unauthorised substances. 

Toxins, Alkaloids and Chemicals such as Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in oregano and chamomile tea; aflatoxins in peanuts, dried figs and turmeric powder; and 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters in refined palm oil and sesame oil were also highly reported, representing 18% of the total number of recalls.

3-MCPDE and GE can form in edible oils when the oils are heated at very high temperatures to remove unwanted tastes, colours, or odours. In 2016, an EFSA opinion warned that 3-MCPD could pose risks to kidneys and male reproductive system. It also warned that glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) are genotoxic and carcinogenic. In September 2020, the EU published a new regulation for the maximum level allowed of these substances. 

Salmonella was the most common pathogen in 2021, and closes the top 3 reasons for recall with 11% of all food recalls in Europe. 41 of the 165 cases of Salmonella reported had their origin in Poland.

Country of origin

Turkey produced most products recalled in Europe in 2021, particularly fruits and vegetables such as lemons, grapefruits and peppers with excessive Chlorpyrifos-methyl and Ethylene oxide and some cases of mould in dough sheets and olives.

Germany followed very closely, being the origin of several products contaminated with Salmonella (meat, herbs, pet food), as well as products containing foreign bodies such as metal, plastic and glass.

The podium where no country wants to be closes with a tie between France, India and China each being the origin of 5.1% of all the recalls. France had problems with E.Coli and Salmonella, products from India were often found to have excessive levels of Ethylene Oxide and China’s plastic products were found to have excessive levels of bamboo melamine.

It’s worth noting that, for 33% of the recalls last year, the country of origin has not been reported in the RASFF system, and is unknown.

Country of recall

If you have been following our monthly recall overviews, it is no surprise that Germany is the absolute champion of spotting irregularities in food products, with 22% of last year’s food recalls being reported in the country. This is more than double the amount of recalls notified by France, which comes second on this podium, particularly reporting many cases of Listeria in cheese. 

Belgium and Denmark were also busy detecting food recalls in 2021, with the former reporting mostly cases of Ethylene oxide and Salmonella and the latter cases of foreign bodies, Chlorpyrifos and pests.

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