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While allergens still lead the number of recalls during all of 2011, Listeria in a horserace finish commanded the second-highest number of recalls in the fourth quarter. Source: ExpertRECALL (Stericycle).

Food recalls across the nation increased 50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and affected 80 percent more products compared with the previous three-month period, according to the quarterly ExpertRECALL, released by Stericycle. The ExpertRECALL Index report aggregates and tracks cumulative recall data from the CPSC and FDA. In contrast, recalls for consumer products, pharmaceutical and medical devices decreased compared with previous quarters.

Undeclared allergens remained the leading factor, accounting for more than a third of food recalls in the quarter. Concerns about Listeria contamination were the second-leading cause of fourth-quarter recalls, accounting for almost 20 percent of all food recalls listed on the FDA’s website from October through December.

In the fourth quarter, FDA enforcement reports documented 176 food recalls initiated by more than 150 companies and affecting nearly 70 million units, according to the report. Of fourth-quarter recalls, 42 affected customers nationwide, while 28 recalls affected domestic and international customers. Two recalls affected only customers outside the US.

“Despite the drop in several other categories, the sharp increase in food product recalls is cause for concern,” says Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of recalls at Stericycle ExpertRECALL. “Food recalls are challenging because they affect all consumers. Ensuring consumer safety during food recalls is complicated further when food is repackaged for storage or put in resealable containers, eliminating any chance of identifying the food in our homes as having been recalled.

“Another issue is that with so many recalls being initiated, consumers suffering from ‘recall fatigue’ may pay less attention to recall announcements than they should,” adds Rozembajgier. “In this current environment, manufacturers and retailers must take extra care to ensure that consumers are receiving the right messages about recalls and that they are encouraged to respond appropriately.”

The ExpertRECALL Index report is available online.