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Understanding Food Recalls

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  • Written By: Rachel Wilde, PBT, CPT, MA
Understanding Food Recalls

Eggs, Honey Smacks and pre-cut melons are all foods that have been recalled en masse over the last few months with salmonella being a major concern. It seems as though food recalls are increasingly in the headlines, and can make you think twice about produce purchases or eating out.

More than 600 people who ate at a Chipotle restaurant outside Columbus, Ohio, at the end of July have since reported gastrointestinal symptoms and the restaurant chain is now facing two major lawsuits as the result of a series of food poisoning scares that began in 2015.

A food recall occurs when there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill. A food manufacturer or distributor initiates the recall to take foods off the market. In some instances, food recalls are requested by government agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some reasons for recalling food include finding an organism in a product which may make consumers sick, a potential allergen in a product, and mislabeling of food. For example, a food may contain an allergen, such as gluten, but the ingredient does not appear on the label.

Although it seems these recalls are on the rise, the FDA says that's not the case. According to the Washington Post article, Food recalls explained: Why it seems like food contamination is on the rise, the ability to track food borne contaminants has improved with technology which results in better documentation of these illnesses and contaminants.

In addition, the path from the farm to the table has increased, meaning that as we consume more processed or out of season foods, the greater the opportunity for contamination. An example is purchasing an out of season salad. As it's processed it comes from the field (far from your home) to the processor, the packager, the distributor and then the grocer, with the potential for contamination at each step.

You can look up recent food recalls by using the FDA's website for foods other that meat, poultry, egg and pet food products. The USDA's website details recalls on meats, poultry and egg products. There are also apps that will alert you to these recalls.

Being aware of recent recalls can help you to avoid an illness, such as the norovirus, E. Coli or Salmonella poisoning. Good food personal food safety practices can also help prevent illness, as many of these viruses can be eliminated through proper cooking techniques.

At home, be sure to wash your hands frequently while cooking and avoid cross contamination. Things like cutting boards and counter tops are cesspools of germs. Wash fruits and vegetables (remember everyone touching those peaches looking for the perfect one). Look up appropriate cooking temperatures and use a thermometer when cooking meat. If it looks or smells "funny", find something else to eat!

When eating out, be on the lookout for warning signs of unsafe eating conditions. Employees who can't or don't wash their hands, sick employees, dirty restrooms, hidden kitchens (you can't see their cooking practices), food that isn't cycled frequently and suspicious looking foods are all concerns to be mindful of.

Food recall facts

Food Safety Magazine recently published an article titled, "A Look Back at 2017 Food Recalls," which details the 436 food recalls of 2017. Some 218 products were recalled for undeclared allergens, 108 for Listeria, 24 for Salmonella concerns and 14 were recalled for E. Coli. There were also 42 extraneous material recalls, meaning there were particles of plastic or metal among other things found in the products.

One of the most unusual recalls was for "Golf Ball Hash browns", when pieces of golf balls were found in McCain Foods USA, Inc. Roundy’s brand and Harris Teeter brand frozen hash browns. It is believed that the golf balls ended up with the potatoes during the harvesting process.

Have Questions?

Campbell County Health's Wellness works to reduce health risks and promote overall wellness among employee groups and individuals across the northeastern Wyoming region. To learn more about Wellness, please visit or call 307.688.8051.

Rachel Wilde, PBT, CPT, MA, works at CCH Wellness as a Technician and Phlebotomist

  • Category: Wellness