We Brits love our sarnies. Wolfing down an estimated 1.8bn packs, we spend almost £6bn on sandwiches, according to Kantar [52 w/e 12 May 2024]. So, news of a recall involving the two leading sandwich manufacturers is worrying. 

On Friday the Food Standards Agency advised that Greencore was recalling sandwiches, wraps and salads because of “possible contamination with e.coli”. Most affected was Boots, with 15 different sandwich lines recalled, but Asda (nine) the Co-op (six), Amazon and Sainsbury’s (five each), Morrisons (four) and Aldi (one) are all affected. 

Tesco has also been impacted following a similar food alert involving Samworth Brothers on Friday, with 10 sandwich and wrap SKUs recalled, plus four One Stop lines, as well as one line from the tertiary Tesco brand The Gym Kitchen.

And this morning WH Smith was also dragged into the crisis, in conjunction with This, with the brand’s alt-meat chicken & bacon substitute wraps, part of its new food to go range, recalled.

That means M&S, Waitrose, Lidl and Poundland are the only leading multiple grocery retailers not to be implicated so far in the sandwich recalls.

Not that they will be complacent. As I explained last week, e.coli is a slippery little bacteria to pin down and catch. And the FSA insists e.coli has not been detected in any of the recalled products, stressing the moves are “a precaution”.

‘The responsible thing’ 

It’s absolutely the right response. As Jim Winship at the British Sandwich Association says: ”The industry cannot afford to take risks. If anything occurs, the immediate response must always be to withdraw products. The responsible thing to do is to issue a recall.” 

At the same time it’s also important not to sensationalise a product recall like this, lest consumers are whipped up into a frenzy. While cases of e.coli can be serious, mercifully there have been no fatalities, and if 200 people sounds like a lot, out of a population of 70 million, it’s a drop in the ocean. As additional context, Greencore makes 1,600 SKUs and 45 have been recalled. That’s less than 3%. 

And while no one knows the precise cause of the outbreak, crucially it does appear the FSA is closing the net. As The Grocer predicted in a story last week, its use of whole genome sequencing has been zeroing in on fresh produce, with lettuce now understood to be the most likely culprit as the common ingredient in affected products.

Invariably, outbreaks in the fresh produce sector are linked to a contaminated water supply, but the wet and warm growing conditions of late are also understood to provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to grow. As such, Winship stresses that all food businesses – big or small – need to be on their guard.

“Any caterers or sandwich bars using lettuces or salad ingredients need to wash these products thoroughly before assembling for use in sandwiches and salads,” he says. “That applies to consumers at home too.”

Winship also advises retailers and manufacturers to keep sandwiches at an optimal temperature. “Temperature is one of the key factors in food safety: the law says chilled food must be stored at 8°C or lower. Any product not stored at the right temperature is in danger.”