Food products aimed at children accounted for almost a third of all consumer products recalled from the UK market in 2018/19 – increasing by 68% on the previous year – according to law firm, RPC.
RPC says that businesses are particularly careful with products that are likely to be used by vulnerable consumers, such as children. Such products are subject to especially stringent safety scrutiny, as children are at an increased risk of strangulation and choking on small parts. They are also more vulnerable than adults to toxic materials.
“Products that are specifically geared towards children are by definition intended for a particularly vulnerable group,” says Gavin Reese, Product Liability Partner at RPC.
“The increase in recalls of products of this type suggests that companies are being extra vigilant and not taking any chances with products that pose even the slightest risk.”
The impact of coronavirus
The overall number of products recalled from the market was 424 in 2018/19, which marks a slight decrease from the previous year in which a total of 436 products were recalled.
However, as the coronavirus outbreak continues, there are concerns that disruption to supply chains may in due course lead to an increased risk of potentially unsafe products coming to the market.
This is a particular concern for supermarkets and other grocery retailers. Businesses selling basic essentials have been under pressure to keep shelves stocked. This demand could mean that health and safety measures are potentially harder to maintain than they would be under normal circumstances.
“Whilst it is far too early to be sure, the enormous disruption caused by coronavirus could mean that some unsafe products potentially risk slipping through the net, as pressure mounts on businesses to maintain steady supplies of products during the pandemic,” says Nick McMahon, Head of Health and Safety at RPC.
“Disruption in supply chains resulting from this unprecedented situation means retailers may be having to use unfamiliar suppliers or suppliers who themselves are facing staff shortages and/or logistical difficulties in delivering the products they are being asked to supply. Reviewing and adhering to good safety practices and procedures is more important than ever.”
Allergen-related recalls record five-year high
In addition to the high number of overall product recalls, the number of food products recalled due to allergen risks reached a record high in 2018/19. 127 products were removed from the market, up 16% from 110 the previous year.
RPC says that several high-profile food allergy deaths in recent years have encouraged businesses to maintain a safety-first approach.
In 2016, a teenage girl died as a result of eating a baguette from a high-street chain that contained sesame. This resulted in the Government passing new legislation, set to come into effect in 2021.
Natasha’s Law will require businesses that make and sell food on the same premises to include details of any allergens the food contains. Many businesses are already doing so.
The new legislation will expand current EU law that has been in place since December 2014, which directs that food that is made in a separate premise to which it is sold must provide allergen information.
“In addition to safeguarding their customers, businesses are understandably keen to avoid negative publicity, with many choosing to instigate a recall voluntarily rather than take any risks,” adds Mr McMahon.
“Recalls have become increasingly common in recent years, with the result that they have perhaps lost some of their stigma.”