Friday, January 7, 2011
P.S. ON FOOD RECALLS
In the years I have been following food product recalls in the US, I have learned a few things. Here are five that may surprise you:
• The recalling food company is often not the one guilty of contaminating the food being recalled. They could be an innocent victim. The contaminant could have entered from their ingredient supplier, at their packer's, or during transport. Or, they could simply be a distributor or retailer, who bought bad food products, thinking they were safe.
• You cannot assume that the product being recalled is always the right one - that is, the food that has caused an outbreak of illnesses. Mistakes happen and trace-back is not that easy. Strawberries have been recalled, when it was really raspberries that were contaminated, tomatoes recalled instead of peppers, and more. Just keep your fingers crossed.
• Many recalls start small and expand, so the safest approach is to leave a wide margin around the food that is recalled for a while. That is, if peanut products are being recalled by one company, avoid all foods containing peanut products for a while to allow the FDA to do more testing. If certain alfalfa sprouts are being recalled, avoid eating any for a while until you hear more, as the problem could be in the seeds distributed to many growers. If three cheeses made by a cheese maker are being recalled, avoid the other five they make until the FDA does more testing in case the problem is contaminated equipment or something else they all share. And so on.
• Many recalls are a case of "too little too late." It is not unusual for the "Best-by" date to have expired by the time the recall is announced. That is, we have already eaten the food. So think back on what you ate - not just what is still sitting in your refrigerator or cupboard. Of course, this is even more important if you are ill.
• Many recalls go on for a long time, sometimes in a type of start, stop and start-up again pattern, as more testing is done (see the Alert column on this blog for a 6 mos. recall by Fresh Express, and remember the peanut product and pistachio recalls that went on even longer). So don't assume it will be over in a day or so. We have a complicated food system.