Fighting physical contamination and other major recall risks

Food producers must protect consumers and prevent costly recalls


Food product recalls are a valuable measure to secure consumer safety, but they come at an enormous financial and reputational cost. Thankfully, technological advances are enabling new, effective ways to prevent and minimize food contamination in all its forms.

What causes food product recalls?

Food contamination risks exist across the value chain, many of them invisible to the human eye. Understanding the common causes of food recalls is the first step toward preventing an incident:

  1. Physical contaminants

Foreign materials such as metal, plastic, glass, bone fragments, pests, hair, and dirt were the leading cause of US food recalls in 2019, accounting for 34 recalls.

  1. Cross-contamination of allergens

Undeclared allergens came in a close second, accounting for 32 recalls. The most common culprits included milk, wheat, soy, and peanuts.

  1. Pathogens

E. coli, listeria, and salmonella led to 16 product recalls in 2019. Pathogens are particularly concerning because they can make anyone ill, not only people with food sensitivities.

Avoiding contamination and minimizing the impact of recalls

It’s no secret that food contamination risks are numerous and varied. Plus, every food processing line is unique, further complicating the risk management process.

Setting priorities and establishing clear protocols—including accountability and crisis response plans—is an effective way to control risks in the context of your operation.

Strategies to minimize food contamination risks
Food contamination risk area Possible mitigation strategies





  • Have clear food handling procedures at every step from source to shelf
  • Train and educate staff regularly
  • Monitor staff hygiene
  • Establish a crisis response team
  • Minimize contact between staff and high-risk food, e.g. through automating parts of the processing line








Procedures and systems

  • Adopt advanced traceability software
  • Upskill operators to use leading-edge software
  • Regularly update software as new features and bug fixes become available
  • Use data to identify problem areas and make informed decisions
  • Display clear process flow diagrams
  • Adopt a proactive approach enabled by technology
  • Keep an updated hazard register on site



Facility management

  • Implement suitable waste management systems
  • Ensure effective pest control measures
  • Follow strict visitor protocols
  • Ensure regular facility maintenance (plumbing, carpentry, and electrical)




  • Transparent communication between management and employees
  • Establish procedures to resolve internal (production) issues
  • Implement a crisis communication playbook
  • Use honest, clear, concise messaging in case of a food recall
  • Make food safety procedures available to staff at all levels



Supplier and customer relationships

  • Invest in high-quality inspection equipment to assess incoming raw material
  • Implement Terms of Trade detailing expectations with suppliers and customers
  • Communicate quickly and honestly with suppliers and customers in case of food contamination
  • Use traceability software to monitor issues

It’s almost impossible to eliminate all food contamination risks. However, being able to identify issues early can help ensure they’re contained in time to prevent a costly recall.  

In the worst-case scenario of a suspected or confirmed contamination, manufacturers must be able to contain the issue quickly and demonstrate adherence to food safety standards and regulations.

Financial cost of a food recall (study).

The financial cost of product recalls

It is difficult to overstate the financial impact of food recalls. The direct costs average around 10 million US dollars, and in 23% of cases the cost exceeds 30 million US dollars. That’s just the beginning: These figures only account for direct costs such as assembling a crisis team, issuing recall notifications, and recovering products.

Reputational costs are harder to quantify but potentially even more devastating. When customers lose confidence in a brand, it can be a long, difficult, and expensive journey, often taking years to regain trust among customers and end consumers.

Marel Innova 2 2400

Marel helps food producers avoid and contain contamination

We work in close partnership with our customers to develop state-of-the-art solutions that help prevent food contamination.

A fine example is our industry-leading SensorX Magna meat inspection solution. SensorX Magna uses advanced X-ray inspection technology to detect and remove bone and metal while maximizing yield.

We also offer a range of advanced Innova Food Processing Software modules, such as Innova Traceability and Innova Quality Control. By providing full-line solutions and software, backed by a global network of service experts, we can help your business achieve outstanding levels of food safety.

Find your local Marel partner


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