A recent National Public Radio report detailed American shortcomings in recalling tainted food, which is taking too long to be removed from store shelves, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During a review, federal investigators found that food companies took a shocking average of 57 days to recall items after the FDA was informed of the potential danger.
This is alarming, because almost two months is more than enough time for consumers to continue purchasing and consuming contaminated food products. This report is a wake-up call, reminding us to be our own advocates for food safety, as well as an providing a good opportunity for a refresher on general food safety habits.
How Food Recalls Work
As you probably know, food recalls occur when there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill. While one would hope such recalls were rare, they are actually very common. Common reasons for food recalls include:
- Contamination with a pathogen, such as E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella
- Foreign object contamination, such as plastic, glass, or metal fragments
- Nutrient imbalance (often seen in pet food recalls)
- Undeclared allergens, such as peanut, tree nut, milk, egg, soy, shellfish, etc.
- Undeclared sulfites (as a food ingredient)
- Uneviscerated fish (salt-cured)
Recalls are typically voluntary and initiated by the food manufacturers themselves. Companies often want to minimize the scandal and damage resulting from a contaminated or mislabeled product, and thus complete the recall as quickly and efficiently as possible. Since 2011, the FDA can also issue a mandatory recall when a company fails to voluntarily recall unsafe food after being asked to do so. The FDA has only used this recall authority twice, however.
Stay Aware of Food Recalls
Considering how often food recalls occur, and their wide range in severity, it can be hard to keep up. But, no one wants to eat or purchase a food product that has been recalled. Fortunately, there are a number of convenient ways to check up-to-date food recall reports.
First, recalls.gov is the official United States resource for the latest information on all food recalls and food illness outbreaks. On the website, you can check food recall alerts, recent food recalls, and sign up for free recall updates by email. You can also report problems with food, if you suspect that a product may be contaminated or mislabeled. Recalls.gov also provides recall information for various other industries, including motor vehicles, boats, medicine, cosmetics, and environmental products.
If you are a frequent Twitter user, you can follow @FDArecalls to add recall information to your newsfeed. Further, you can turn on notifications for the handle, meaning you will receive a notification every time the FDA tweets about a food recall.
Finally, there are a number of food safety apps that provide similar information and alerts for food recalls. If you are looking for a single place to go for food recalls, often with more detail, apps are a great option. The USDA and FDA both have official mobile apps, and AlertMe and AskKaren are apps that provide allergy recall and general food safety information.
Safe Food Practices
While there isn’t much a consumer can do to avoid recalled food other than being aware of current recalls, there are general food safety practices to avoid contamination or food poisoning. Here are a few things you can do to avoid unsafe food:
- Read sell-by dates. This is probably the easiest thing you can do to avoid contaminated food—make sure you are not consuming expired products.
- Wash your hands and your preparation materials. Thorough washing kills the bacteria on your hands and bacteria from raw meat.
- Cook your food thoroughly. Many bacteria are killed by thorough cooking, which for meats, poultry, fish, and shellfish is between 165 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Refrigerate food properly. And make sure your refrigerator is below 40 degrees.
Victims of Food Recalls
When a food product is recalled and consumers discover that their illness was caused by a food manufacturer’s error, they understandably want justice. Depending on the circumstances of the recall, the manufacturer, vendor, and possibly the importer and distributor could all be held liable for selling contaminated food to the public.
Victims may individually seek compensation for their medical bills and other income loss in court. When a food recall is large enough, a class action lawsuit may also come into play.
Food recalls are no joke. Whether it’s a serious bacterial infection or an allergic reaction due to mislabeling, victims can find themselves in the hospital, needing expensive treatment. Stay up to date with food recalls, follow safe food preparation guidelines, and hopefully you will not suffer from a food-recall-related illness.
If you do suffer illness related to a contaminated food product, our Dallas food poisoning lawyers may be able to help. For a free case evaluation to explore your options, please give us a call at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP, (214) 231-0555.