Takeaways and Procedures from the USDA’s 2019 Summary of Recall Cases
The number of food recalls have decreased in number since 2015 from a total of 150 food recalls, to an average of 125 in the years 2014-2019. However, while the volume of recalls have decreased, the number of Class I recalls related to meat and poultry– the most hazardous kind–have nearly doubled since 2013, increasing by 85%. In its Recall Summaries for the year 2019, The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA) published a total of 124 food recalls, the majority of which were Class I Recalls.
A food recall occurs when a food product is removed from the market, due to an unintentional and potentially harmful factor. A food recall can be initiated either by a company or a government health agency in the event that a product is discovered to be possibly hazardous if consumed. There are an array of reasons for food recalls, but some of the most common are the presence of extraneous material, undeclared substances through mislabeling, undeclared allergens, or microbial contamination.
As stated above, food recalls can either be voluntary– initiated by the company who produced the product–or involuntary–initiated by a government health agency such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Each food recall is categorized by its level of risk from Class I-III. A Class I Recall is a case “in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death”, Class II Recall is a case in which there is a “remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food”, and finally, a Class III Recall is a case in which “eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences”.
Once a food recall is declared, the concerned products are removed from all retail stores and an investigation begins in order to determine the root of the issue; the reason for extraneous material getting into the product, or the source of the microbial contamination etc…Throughout the duration of the recall, the FDA publishes updates on its website concerning the case and finally, its conclusion.
In the Recall Summary for 2019, the USDA publishes that the 124 food recalls for 2019 encompass 20,427,455 pounds of food. Although the majority of the food recalls were for Extraneous Material and Undeclared Allergens, the number of recalls due to STEC, Salmonella, and Listeria remain significant in frequency and in the percentage of weight of all the recalled food.
In the case of microbial contamination, beginning in individual product recalls and progressing to outbreaks, health officials must follow extensive traceback investigations, in order to determine the original place of contamination. In these cases, the recall will not be declared over until officials have reasonable proof that the concerned products are no longer available on the market, nor in consumers’ freezers and that the original issue has been amended.
For more information on the procedures and statistical make-up of food recalls, visit the USDA’s website.