There have been a lot of food recalls recently. Capri Sun recently voluntarily recalled 6,000 cases of contamination with diluted cleaning fluid, and in May 2022, Jif voluntarily recalled multiple peanut butters due to potential Salmonella contamination. With so many mass recalls of packaged goods, is this the new normal? Here’s what registered dietitians and food safety experts want you to know.
About one in six Americans falls ill each year from foodborne illness.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides annual reports on food recalls. There were 47 recalls of 15,501,273 pounds of food in 2021, compared to 31 recalls of 1,461,019 pounds of food in 2020. Of course, you can see the numbers go up, but if you backtrack further, it’s a different story:
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act gave FDA more powers to prevent food safety problems. Additionally, the FDA, USDA, and CDC use a new technology called “whole genome sequencing” to detect foodborne illnesses faster and more efficiently. In 2016, orders for robots in the food and beverage industry increased by 32% — an attempt to replace humans and human error. However, automated packaging has also resulted in product mislabeling, and manufacturing equipment can sometimes result in foreign objects (such as metal) being found in food.
Food recalls have actually dropped significantly over the past two years (2020 and 2021). We’ll see if this trend continues, as the pandemic will certainly lead to changes in food manufacturing due to supply shortages and other important factors in the food chain.
There are a handful of organizations that oversee food recalls. FSIS is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that oversees the safety of meat, poultry and some egg products that make up about 20 percent of the U.S. food supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the rest of the food supply, both domestic and imported. When a foodborne illness occurs, state departments contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in turn contacts the FDA or FSIS. Additionally, food manufacturers work with these organizations to issue food recalls for their own products.
When foods are recalled, they tend to fall into one of three categories: pathogen contamination (such as salmonella), physical contamination (such as glass or metal), or mislabeling (when the food contains an undeclared allergen). Recalls are usually done voluntarily by manufacturers. If a company needs to issue a recall, the company needs to let the FDA or FSIS know as soon as possible and provide an action plan, press release, and those affected about how they plan to handle the recall. Once a problem is discovered, the manufacturer is responsible for removing the product from the market. Recalls are rarely issued by the FDA or FSIS, but it occurs when the source of contamination has not been identified.
To stay up-to-date on recalls, FDA offers a recall subscription service where you can be notified daily or weekly of any recalls, including food recalls. You can also check the USDA website where they posted the recall.
If you think you have a recalled product, please read the recall notice carefully and follow the product-specific instructions. You can usually return the recalled product to the store where it was purchased for a full refund. If not, you should dispose of the product properly, and if it is contaminated, wrap it securely before putting it in the trash. Never give recalled products to other people such as food banks or pets.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian.