From snack foods to fresh produce, food recalls seem to be becoming more and more common. But have large-scale recalls like the romaine lettuce recall just put consumers on edge? Or are food recalls actually more common now than in recent years? New research from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) suggests that, yes, recalls are becoming more common.
Let’s take a look at what research shows about trends in food recalls. If you have questions about a recalled product, or have experienced adverse side effects after consuming a recalled product, contact our food safety attorneys to learn more about your case.
Are Food Recalls Becoming More Common?
Researchers with PIRG, a non-partisan group, recently wrapped up a study exploring the rate of food recalls in the United States. The research included reports from 2013 to 2016. The results indicated the following:
- Between 2013 and 2016, the number of food recalls in the U.S. rose 10 percent.
- During this same time, the number of Class I recalls rose by 83 percent.
- Between 2013 and 2018, produce and processed food recalls increased by 2 percent.
Perhaps most concerning is the 83 percent uptick in Class I recalls. A Class I recall is the most serious classification given by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These recalls are based on a “reasonable probability” that the recalled food could cause serious health problems.
According to the CDC, the rate of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. have remained fairly consistent, impacting around 48 million people each year. Even though food recalls may have increased, the CDC has not reported a significant increase in illness reports.
With such a significant increase in the number of dangerous recalls, we must question the reasons why. Are foods becoming more dangerous? Are manufacturing processes allowing contamination? Has oversight tightened down?
Why are Food Recalls More Common Than Ever?
There are several opinions among food safety experts and agencies about why food recalls are more common now than in previous years. Some of the most widely-accepted reasons include the following.
A Natural Cycle of Ebb and Flow
Assistant professor of applied food safety at the University of Illinois, Matt Stasiewicz, states that an increase in food recalls does not necessarily mean that our foods are becoming inherently more dangerous. Rather, recalls often follow a natural cycle of ebb and flow, meaning that there will be years with significant increase, and years with significant decrease. For example, 2017 and 2018 had fewer recalls overall than 2013 through 2016.
More Manufacturers Addressing Concerns
Jaydee Hanson, the policy director at the Center for Food Safety states that an increase in the number of food recalls could be a good sign. It may suggest that more manufacturers are carefully considering dangers and are initiating voluntary recalls as soon as concerns arise. Hanson believes one reason for the increase in voluntary recalls is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA gave the FDA more control and more powerful means of enforcing regulations. According to Hanson, manufacturers who know that the FDA and USDA are keeping tabs are more likely to initiate a recall before the product causes illness or death.
Are Recalls Enough to Protect Consumers?
PIRG researchers remain concerned that, while food recalls may be part of a cycle, that there are still problems that could leave consumers in danger. PIRG study co-author Adam Garber notes that regulations and enforcement methods do not always keep pace with current – and consistently changing – food production and manufacturing methods.
Product manufacturing and food production operations continue to grow, and facilities are faced with increasing issues ensuring safety, cleanliness, and sanitation. Sadly, laws and regulations have not kept up with the changes and growth in production facilities, making some believe that current laws are somewhat antiquated. Garber offers the example of one law that allows salmonella-tainted meat to be sold as long as it is meant to be cooked thoroughly. Certainly not appetizing for consumers or the healthcare community.
Hanson further argues that regulations may also have become increasingly lax in recent years. For example, under the Trump Administration’s regulations, some poultry plants are allowed to send up to 175 chickens per minute down an inspection line. On paper, the birds are being “inspected”, but it is questionable how any human being could inspect 170 chickens in a single minute with any accuracy.
What Consumers Need to Know about Food Recalls
As a consumer, you trust that the foods you purchase for your family are safe and ready to consume. Unfortunately, there may be no way to tell if a product you purchased has been contaminated or exposed to harmful pathogens until an illness occurs. Recalls are an important part of protecting consumers and getting the word out about potentially dangerous food products, but sadly, many recalls are only initiated after reports of illness or death have been filed with the FDA.
So, as a consumer what can you do to protect your family and avoid recalled food products? Check out these tips from the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline:
- Identify the Product: Food recalls sometimes include just one specific product, or one batch of a specific product. If a product you use has been recalled, it is important to look up the official Recall Announcement to determine if the product you have is the same product being recalled. Even if the product you have is the same as the one recalled, it may not be included in the recall if the date, batch, or production line numbers are different.
- Identify the Reason: Food recalls are initiated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a recall is due to contamination, foreign objects, improper labeling, or defects. If you have purchased or recently consumed a product that has been recalled, it is important to explore the reason for the recall. If the product was recalled due to a potential allergen, but no one in your family is allergic, then you are likely safe. However, if the product was recalled due to bacterial contamination or a foreign object, then you should not use the product and should return it to the place of purchase.
- Handling the Product: If you have identified a product in your home that has been recalled due to contamination, a foreign object, or other serious dangers, you should avoid using the product. Contact the manufacturer and report that you have purchased a recalled product. You generally can return recalled products to the place of purchase for a full refund.
- Reporting Adverse Events: If you or a family member have experienced an adverse event from using a product that was recalled, your first step should be seeking appropriate medical care. Next, report the adverse event to the FDA via their MedWatch program, or the USDA via their Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Following these guidelines could help you protect your family from harmful products. If you or a loved one have already experienced an injury or illness due to a recalled product, you may find it helpful to get legal advice as well.
Food Recalls and Your Legal Rights
As a consumer, you expect that the products you purchase are safe. When the food meant to nourish your family causes you harm, your faith in manufacturers can easily be diminished. After all, manufacturers are required to follow guidelines and ensure that the products they distribute are safe.
Food recalls are a helpful tool to warn consumers about potentially dangerous products, but unfortunately, many products are only recalled after injuries or illness have been reported. If you or someone you love has been harmed by a dangerous, defective, contaminated, or recalled product, contact our food safety attorneys to learn more about your legal rights. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries or losses.