Food incidents, product withdrawals and recalls
How to report, respond to and prevent an incident, including how to withdraw or recall unsafe food products.
What a food incident is
A food incident occurs when concerns around the safety or quality of food (and/or feed) may require action to protect consumers.
Incidents broadly fall into two categories:
- contamination of food or animal feed in processing, distribution, retail and catering
- environmental pollution incidents such as fires, chemical/oil spills and radiation leaks
Product withdrawals and recalls
As a result of a food incident, a food product may have to be withdrawn or recalled.
A withdrawal is when unsafe food is removed from the supply chain before it has reached consumers.
A recall is when unsafe food is removed from the supply chain and consumers are advised to take appropriate action, for example to return or dispose of the unsafe food.
Reporting a food incident
If you believe food or feed you have supplied is either harmful to health, unfit for people to eat or does not meet legal requirements, you should:
- immediately withdraw or recall the food from the market
- tell your competent authority (local authority or port health authority), which will advise you of any further action you might need to take
If you believe unsafe food has reached consumers, tell the FSA incidents team. A recall notice may need to be issued by us.
To help with this, you need to be able to identify your suppliers and food business customers.
Traceability, withdrawals and recalls guidance
Our 'Guidance on Food Traceability, Withdrawals and Recalls within the UK Food Industry' explains what the law requires and what businesses need to do.
It includes advice and best practice on:
- traceability systems
- making a decision and carrying out a withdrawal or recall
- roles and responsibilities
- how to inform consumers of a food recall
EU references in FSA guidance documents
The FSA is updating all EU references, to accurately reflect the law now in force, in all new or amended guidance published since the Transition Period ended at the end of 2020. In some circumstance it may not always be practicable for us to have all EU references updated at the point we publish new or amended guidance.
Other than in Northern Ireland, any references to EU Regulations in this guidance should be read as meaning retained EU law. You can access retained EU law via HM Government EU Exit Web Archive. This should be read alongside any EU Exit legislation that was made to ensure retained EU law operates correctly in a UK context. EU Exit legislation is on legislation.gov.uk.
In Northern Ireland, EU law will continue to apply in respect to the majority of food and feed hygiene and safety law, as listed in the Northern Ireland Protocol, and retained EU law will not apply to Northern Ireland in these circumstances.
The following tools will help when carrying out a recall:
A quick reference guide has also been developed to further assist businesses, this complements the main guidance:
Undertaking Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
Following a food safety incident, you are advised to undertake a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) exercise.
RCA is a method that can be used to determine how and why the food incident occurred and to help identify actions to prevent future incidents. The results of the RCA can be used to review how you manage food safety and hygiene in a your food business, including the traceability, withdrawal and recall of unsafe food.
Different methods can be used when performing RCA and you should liaise with your enforcement authority for further advice.
To help businesses understand RCA, we have developed a root cause analysis e-learning course.
Root cause analysis - single point lessons
Root cause analysis findings have been used to identify common factors that resulted in particular types of incidents reoccurring.
Using this information, we have developed some initial Single Point Lessons (SPL) to help better target those areas where intervention will have most effect and to promote ‘best practice’ relating to incident prevention.
Protecting and defending food and drink from deliberate attack
The British Standards Institution has developed a user-friendly guide to help businesses if you don’t have access to specialist advice in this area. This guide is designed to help food businesses and others avoid and lessen threats at all points in the food and drink supply chain.
The guide can help you to assess potential vulnerabilities to fraud, ideologically motivated individuals and other 'insider' threats. There is also advice on cyber threats.
Our incident management plan
The Incident Management Plan (IMP) shows you how we are meeting our responsibilities in response to non-routine food-related incidents. The IMP will be regularly updated and will be continually tested.
England, Northern Ireland and Wales
Published: 5 February 2018
Last updated: 20 January 2023