Why Food Recalls Are on the Rise

Pay attention to any news report and you’re sure to hear about the latest food recalls. You may even see notices at your local grocery stores.

Cut melon, Honey Smacks, Ritz crackers, eggs, and more have been the center of salmonella worries and nationwide recalls. With food-borne illnesses putting people in the hospital, it’s reasonable to be concerned about what you’re buying.

But exactly how bad is it? This year alone, the CDC reported multiple outbreaks of Listeria, E. coli, salmonella, and other infectious pathogens. Although it may seem otherwise, it boils down to local and national government agencies having improved detection and tracking practices.

During the past decade, food safety laws and inspection systems set up by the USDA and FDA have led to increases in food recalls, as well as investigations conducted by the CDC and local health departments.

The USDA oversees meat, poultry, and egg products while the FDA handles other foods including produce, processed items, and ingredients like that whey that sparked the recent Ritz recall.

According to a report by Stericyle Expert Solutions, the majority of FDA food recalls for the past two years have been due to undeclared allergens. At 47%, it signifies that ingredients such as peanuts are being left off labels and forcing companies to issue recalls. Microbe contamination followed at 21%,

For this same period, the group also examined information for the USDA, finding undeclared allergens accounted for 28% of recalls and bacteria made up 25%.

Companies are urged to issue voluntary recalls if they catch something during their own routine inspections before products are shipped to market. This step helps to confront a problem before one arises, as was the case with the whey powder cited for the recalls for Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish Crackers, Ritz crackers, and Swiss rolls.

Food manufacturers also want to avoid violating 2011’s Food Safety Modernization Act enforced by the FDA. Under the act, food producers are responsible for keeping their products and facilities free of hazards and contaminants. If a food safety issue arises, they should address it through a voluntary recall.

The act gives the FDA the authority to force recalls if necessary and violators could face fines or jail time. But as we know, this system doesn’t always work and people fall ill or die. Many times, the FDA and USDA depend on alerts from state agencies (like health departments), grocery stores, restaurants, or the consumer.

Working in partnership with these groups as well as the CDC leads to investigations and recalls. This is why you see the spike in recall announcements, as there are multiple teams in place to stay on top of this information. They also take into account that there are instances where illness or other hazards won’t be reported by the consumer.

That’s why it’s important to report something if you experience a sudden food-related illness or if you find a hazard in your food like plastic or metal shavings. We cannot always rely on food producers to make the call as soon as they are aware of an issue, but recalls can be issued sooner than later if members of the public report problems on their own.

Has the recent spate of food recalls made you worry? Have you ever reported a food-related hazard or health issue? Do you trust the food inspections process?



New York Times