Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I have just done a food recall roundup for the last 6 mos. of 2010, using official FDA and USDA data. Alright, I should have done it for the year, but this analysis is taking ages to do, because the goverment sites are not well organized. I also did not want to get into counting those hundreds of shell egg and HPV-related recalls that occurred earlier this year (see previous blog).

The below information represents one way of looking at the facts. Remember - I do not cover allergens, mislabelling, or foreign material such as bits of plastic, metal, pins, nails, whatever that is frequently found in all kinds of food. Nor do I include any "maybe" cases of contamination - just proven ones. The statistics could also be analyzed differently (e.g. by number of products recalled, number of illnesses and so on). I would guess that accuracy is about 90%. I should really check this twice more, as I usually do with any data, but don't have the time. Maybe later.

OK so here is a preliminary overview of hazards in the US food supply, as indicated by food recalls:

Most common cause of recalls: Salmonella bacteria (see earlier blog again). But remember, this is NOT counting those huge Salmonella-caused recalls earlier in the year. That would make it even worse. Salmonella caused some 30 recalls in the past 6 mos. Foods contaminated ranged from produce and meat to unexpected ones such as black pepper, sesame seeds, chocolate, nuts, cereal and soup bases. Well, just about anything and everything you could put in your mouth.

Most commonly contaminated type of food: Ready-to-eat foods, such as washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, deli salads, meats and other deli products and so on. The most common contaminant of these was Listeria monocytogenes bacteria (so dangerous for pregnant women because of harm to the fetus).

The single most often recalled food: cheese. Yes, this has been a bad year for cheese, especially cheese made from raw milk, which is always the most dangerous (see earlier blog). It has been the vehicle for E.coli, Staphyloccus, Enteroccus, Listeria and Salmonella bacteria. And yes, cheese has outpaced ground meat this year(which is usually contaminated with E.coli 0147).

Most unexpected contaminants: But note that I have covered these in the Safe Food Handbook (why? because I believe they are much more important than we believe). These are high levels of aflatoxin (a possibly carcinogenic fungal toxin) in white corn flour; high levels of lead in pommegranate juice concentrate.

Emerging contaminant nomination: Goes to E.coli 0145 (see earlier blog)in romaine lettuce. It was caught by the New York State Public Health Laboratory (I think I will send them a fan letter) when testing a bag of shredded lettuce that was shipped to a school district in New York. But it turned up in other states as well. I bet this very dangerous E.coli is around much more than we know - except food testing in most laboratories has only been done for E.coli 0147. My guess is that we will see much more of it in 2011.

How's that for a roundup?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yikes, I thought cheese was safe. Does this mean that to be safe one has eat just heavily pasturised cheese made by Kraft?