In this article we welcome guest author and industry expert, Alec Kyriakides, to explore some of the food safety developments, recalls and incidents that have happened recently.


World Food Safety Day 2024

Every year on 07 June, World Food Safety Day highlights key issues in relation to the challenges associated with ensuring the safety of food globally. This year the campaign, run by the World Health Organisation (WHO), focussed on preparedness for food safety incidents. The WHO highlighted that one in ten people fall ill from contaminated food each year with the greatest disease burden falling on children under the age of 5 years. The WHO highlighted that food incidents can happen due to accidents, inadequate controls, food fraud and natural events and that all actors in the food chain should have measures in place to manage such incidents. Serious incident management is something that all businesses certificated to GFSI-recognised Schemes, such as the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard Issue 9, must have documented and operational.

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) comprise a group of pathogenic E. coli that can cause foodborne disease following the consumption of very low numbers in food. They produce toxins that can cause severe disease leading to bloody diarrhoea, haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), kidney failure and occasionally death. STEC have been recognised for over 30 years and historically outbreaks and incidents have been predominantly caused by the E. coli serotype O157:H7. However, in recent years a variety of other STEC serotypes have been associated with outbreaks with the EU reporting in 2022, that the most common serotypes causing diseases in the 3617 cases from 22 countries were STEC O157 (21.3%), O20 (19.4%), O103 (6.6%), O146 (5.5%) and O145 (4.4%). This shift in serotype is evident in a recent UK outbreak affecting 275 individuals and resulting in one death caused by E. coli O145 following the consumption of leafy green containing sandwiches and wraps and also in an outbreak implicating minced beef products (26 cases, 1 death) caused by E. coli O183. This shift in serotypes highlights the need to ensure that analytical surveillance programmes employed by food business focus on the wider STEC group rather than just E. coli O157.

Horsemeat – a continued risk in the meat supply chain

Taking a lead from the theme of this year’s World Food Safety Day (see above), one aspect of our preparedness should be a healthy degree of sceptism that risks in the supply chain ever go away. Experience tells us that issues tend to ebb and flow, often driven by prioritisation of assurance process whereby increased priority elevates scrutiny and diminishes risk whereas reduced priority decreases scrutiny and elevates risk. Such is the case with a recent expose by a national broadcaster alleging suspicions of illegal slaughtering and traceability defects among horses killed for human consumption. Although this does not imply a repeat of the horsemeat scandal, such matters are indicators of supply chain vulnerabilities and potential risks to food businesses.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – an interesting story

An interesting series of podcasts documenting historical revelations regarding PCBs has recently been produced in the UK by the BBC. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are part of a group of chemicals often referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that can enter the food chain from the environment due to their persistence in air, water, soil and sediment. They can bioaccumulate in animals and are potentially harmful to mammals, fish and / or invertebrates. Regulations limit the levels of PCBs and other POPs in food and best practice guidance from Codex is available for their control.

Food Recall Highlights

The data used for this food recall highlights review is sourced from open access recall databases covering different countries and continents including the USA (Food & Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture), the UK (Food Standards Agency), Germany (Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety) and Australia (Food Standards Australia New Zealand).

Microbiological contamination leading to product recalls continued to be dominated by two pathogens, Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes. STEC contamination was generally lower than previous months although the large outbreak in the UK (see above) resulted in the recall of a large number of sandwiches and wraps. Recalls included the following;


Allergen recalls were predominantly caused by the undeclared presence of milk and gluten although nuts and peanuts drove a particularly large number of recalls in June;


Physical contaminants driving recalls were less numerous in the last month and included the following;


Chemical contamination of foods causing product recalls included a large number of illegal substances and exceedances of acceptable maximum levels;





Alec Kyriakides

BRCGS International Advisory Board Chair

Independent Food Safety Consultant