If you keep your eyes on the right websites, you don’t have to wait long to see a food safety recall. When you consider the number of food manufacturers, each getting its ingredients from hundreds of suppliers, and each putting hundreds of products onto the shelves, it is no surprise that things go wrong sometimes. In fact, considering the scale, your chances of being affected are small—but the results could still be serious. There is no harm in doing your bit to avoid becoming one of the statistics.
Why Do Recalls Happen?
Recalls are not always a cause for alarm. Many things can trigger a recall, and most of them do not pose any great risk to the public.
Typical causes for a recall would be:
- Contamination of the product by bacteria, foreign bodies, or inappropriate chemicals.
- Incorrect or misleading allergen information.
- Defects in packaging or branding.
There are three different classes of recall:
- Potentially dangerous products.
- Products that pose a slight risk.
- Technical faults unlikely to pose any health risk.
Most recalls are initiated by the companies concerned, who are responsible for taking the correct actions. The legal requirements are administered by federal agencies (the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture Food and Safety Inspection Service), and state authorities also have some powers.
Where Can You Check for Recalls?
It is fairly easy to keep up to date with recalls, thanks to the internet. There is a government website which provides information about all current recalls in every category, but it covers all consumer areas, not just food, and, like many government websites, takes time to navigate.
An easier way is to check regularly on a website which specializes in food recall information. Here the information will be presented in a more manageable form, with help to understand the nature of the risks involved.
What Should You Do If You Have a Recalled Product?
When you find something that you have bought on a list of recalled products, there is no need to worry. The chances that you are at any risk are really quite low.
Do not open any packet to check what is inside. Obviously, do not eat the product!
Check for identifying information on your packet, to confirm that it is covered by the recall. Most recalls are to very specific batches of a product.
Follow the instructions as to what to do with the product. Normally, this will mean returning it to the retailer where you bought it for a refund.
What Should You Do If You Think You Have a Suspect Product?
If you open a packet and suspect there is something wrong with it, first check a list of recalled products to see if it has already been acted on.
If not, save the packaging and your receipt. Then put the suspect food, or a portion of it, into a secure freezer bag and freeze it. If you have found an object in the food, keep that as well.
Report your concerns to your state health department and also to the relevant federal authority:
- For meat, poultry and egg products, contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854).
- For all other products, contact the FDA (1-888-SAFEFOOD).
How Can You Avoid Becoming a Statistic?
Apart from checking regularly for the latest food recalls, the best thing you can do is to practice safe procedures in your own shopping and food preparation.
As far as is reasonable, buy local, seasonal, and unprocessed food. The more hands and processes that food goes through before it arrives in your shopping bag, the greater the risk of contamination. There is much less risk of getting a problem with a pineapple than with a bag of handily cut pineapple pieces.
Buy carefully. Check the condition of everything you put in your trolley. Make sure that expiration dates are comfortably far ahead. Check packages for signs of damage or of swelling. When buying fresh produce, avoid anything that looks tired or discolored.
Store chilled food in the refrigerator as soon as you get it home, and other foods in a dry, cool place. When it is time to cook it, wash any washable items and cook meats properly.
It seems that food recalls happen quite often, but they only apply to a tiny proportion of the huge range of products on the market. It is easy to worry too much, so take sensible precautions and enjoy your food!
About the Author
Sam Henry is a physician’s assistant who is always seeking ways to help people stay healthy. He also enjoys sharing his tips and insights on a number of health and wellness websites.
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