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Food Sentry is a global food source monitoring company that, as one of its services, gathers, supplements, and analyzes data on food safety incidents from governments and laboratories around the world.  Food Sentry compiles this data to populate a large and quickly growing database of verified food safety incidents. This information is available to researchers, government and industry in support of ongoing efforts to improve visibility and transparency into food supply issues. Food Sentry also uses it to advise consumers of food risks in the Food Risk Rating Guide.

In 2013, Food Sentry added over 3,400 verified instances of food safety violations associated with products exported from 117 different countries.  The dataset consists of food safety incident data gathered from multiple sources including, but not limited to, U.S., E.U., and Japanese regulatory entities and is then supplemented and analyzed by Food Sentry’s specially trained analysts.  The incidents in the dataset were comprised of raw or minimally processed food

Food Safety Incidents in 2013

Infographic summary of our findings

items that were found to be in violation of the inspecting country’s regulatory scheme.  Specifically, Food Sentry categorizes the items reported here as follows: seafood; vegetables; fruits; herbs/spices; dairy; meats; grains; nuts/seeds; other.

According to the data, the countries that were the top ten sources of violative products in 2013 were (in order of frequency): India, China, Mexico, France, United States, Vietnam, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and Spain.

Each of these countries is a substantial food exporter and it is likely that their products are tested more frequently than other countries, which has some role in putting them into the Top-10 list.  They are also countries whose food you are very likely to encounter in stores and restaurants.

As reported in our review of 2012 violations, the products in these reports had a wide range of issues.  In 2013, the most common problem was, again, excessive or illegal pesticide contamination, which made up over a third of all incidents.   More than 135 specific pesticides as well as a very large number of unspecified pesticides were identified and detected in laboratory testing and reported. Other common issues found with food were: pathogenic contamination (22%); excessive filth and insanitary conditions (15.7%); excessive mycotoxin contamination (10.2%); excessive or illegal chemical/additive contamination (4.5%); excessive toxic metal contamination (3.4%); excessive antibiotic/antiprotozoan contamination (2.2%); unspecified regulatory non-compliance (2.2%); and excessive or illegal drug contamination (1.4%).

Food Sentry collects this data from a variety of official sources around the world.  To keep the numbers in perspective, it’s important to remember that no country inspects more than 50 percent of food that it imports, and most inspect far less. For example, the United States inspects less than 2 percent of all food that is imported into the country, out of approximately 25 million shipments per year. The vast majority of food coming into most countries is never inspected.

Although there has been increasing global focus on cleaning up the food supply in all countries, it is clear that much remains to be done.  We will explore the most frequent violators in much more detail in subsequent reports, identifying which foods were most likely to be contaminated, and with what, as well as looking at some of the possible causes for the problems we identify in each of the countries. Our next report will look at India, a primary source for many foods routinely used by US consumers.