The vast majority of food recalls around the world are caused by preventable problems, with poor allergen control and failure of the pre-requisite systems required for HACCP being the major culprits, according to a new study.

Reading Scientific Services (RSSL) reviewed more than 200 recalls from around the world this year. Its researchers said the incidents prompting recalls ranged from a bird’s head being found in a can of beans in the US, to benzene being found in soft drinks in South Korea, Europe and the US.

Undeclared allergens prompted 40% of all recalls around the world, and over 50% in the US. In the UK, foreign bodies caused the most recalls, prompting 30% of all cases.

“Of course, last year, the illegal use of Sudan Red I would have skewed the recall figures massively in favour of chemical contamination, but chemical contamination of all kinds remains the second biggest cause of UK recalls,” a statement from RSSL said.

RSSL’s allergen’s expert, Simon Flanagan said: “The US trend for allergen-led recalls is something we’ll be watching closely in Europe. It’s by no means certain that Europe’s relatively low recalls for undeclared allergens is due to companies getting their labelling right. It may be that the mistakes are not being spotted.”

Aside from the mislabelling of allergens, there were a significant number of other recalls that were prompted by mislabelling issues, such as incorrect cooking/storage information and undeclared colours.

“It’s vital that companies ensure they have adequate procedures for controlling pests, for ensuring hygiene and for preventing foreign bodies,” said Gill Palmer of RSSL Food Training.

“Whilst this should be a statement of the obvious, it’s clear that some companies have not addressed these basic requirements, and therefore food safety and quality is being compromised, leading to expensive and wasteful recalls.”