Chocolate pulled from shelves in food recalls

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand food and grocery council. Photo: Supplied
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand food and grocery council. Photo: Supplied
Common wisdom is that dark chocolate is a healthier option than its sweeter, milk chocolate cousin.

That didn't stop a slew of food recalls of the confectionery this year, as NZ Food Safety (NZFS) pulled 20 dark chocolate brands from retail shelves across the country due to incorrect labelling and the presence of an allergen - in this case, milk.

Food recalls are shaping up for a bumper year.

The NZFS website already lists 50 food recalls and counting, ranging from chocolate from Wanaka, ice cream from Auckland, to beef jerky from Christchurch and beef mince from Dunedin.

Last year there were 66 food recalls, 53 in 2017 and fewer than half that in 2016 and 2015.

An NZFS spokeswoman said the sharp increases reflected the enhanced awareness of and focus on allergens and their potential impacts, as well as greater consumer vigilance of packaging.

The New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (FGC) says it is costing New Zealand's biggest manufacturing sector millions.

FGC chief executive Katherine Rich says that even with the best systems in place, manufacturers occasionally have to call their products back.

''Reasons are varied, from labelling issues and undeclared allergens to problems to manufacturing faults.''

Whatever the reason, the financial and reputational impact on food businesses can be major, she said.

''There are the costs to the business of lost sales and also major supermarkets will sometimes fine a manufacturer or in some cases make them pay for sizeable costs of taking products off the shelves.''

''A few years ago one of our members was initially asked to pay $60,000 to an Australian supermarket chain for a nationwide recall. These sorts of sums can potentially put small companies to the wall.''

She said the rush of chocolate recalls were all related to the same ingredient supplier.

''Recalls as a result of ingredient recalls are far-reaching because in most cases it will affect every single product made using that ingredient across all the company's customers.''

A former food company executive said accurate ingredient labelling by large suppliers was a major issue.

''Commercial food contract manufacturers are often dealing with hundreds of ingredients and different product ranges on a daily basis, so no matter how good your risk systems are, there has to be an element of trust.''

That was the case with a recalled batch of Hellers sticky ribs in 2017, which were withdrawn due to the presence of sesame, an undeclared allergen.

In this instance, the marinade for the ribs had come from Christchurch's manufacturer Gramart Foods.

Ms Rich said food recalls could be considered in the positive sense that the food safety system was working and that products could be traced and withdrawn, or - particularly where there are numerous recalls - as an indication that the company has a weakness in their system.

''However, even with the best systems in the world, things will happen due to the complexity of food manufacturing and old-fashioned human error.''

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