Food recalls: Are you following directions? – part 2

Ignoring food recalls may lead to foodborne illness or an allergic reaction.

People tend to underestimate the number of food recalls annually. This is possibly due to the rising number; there have been more than 600 food recalls in the last year between the United States and Canada. When a food recall is issued, it is a process by which companies and government regulators try to improve food safety to remove products from distributor inventories, store shelves and consumers’ kitchens.

Sometimes we wonder what all this fuss is about. If you don’t have a food allergy, then the food is safe to eat, right? Here are some of the reasons for food recalls:

  • Contamination with a pathogen such as E.coli, Listeria monocytogens or Salmonella
  • Foreign object contamination such a plastic, glass or metal fragments
  • Nutrient imbalance (often seen in pet food recalls)
  • Undeclared allergens such as peanut, tree nut, milk, egg, soy, shellfish and more
  • Undeclared sulfites
  • Uneviscerated fish

In 2013, Salmonella contamination accounted for 37.6 percent of all recalls. Other causes for food recalls included undeclared food allergens (21.6 percent) and contamination with Listeria monocytogens (20.2 percent). These three pathogens account for the majority of food recalls.

In a food recall study, 12 percent of Americans surveyed say they have knowingly eaten a food they thought had been recalled. Some sited reasons for eating a recalled food include, “I thought the food wouldn’t hurt me,” “I distrust the government and/or media,” “It must be safe if it is being sold” and “I made it safe (I washed it or cooked it).” This mentality and not having any symptoms of a foodborne illness can weaken the confidence in future warnings of a food recall. Keep in mind that many people may not understand what a foodborne illness is or might not be able to recognize the symptoms, therefore never report it.

Michigan State University Extension reminds you that foodborne pathogens are invisible to the naked eye (you have to have a microscope to see them) and you cannot smell or taste them. Don’t discard recalls because you may not see signs of what you think is food spoilage. If you see or hear of a food recall, take action, look in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer for the product being recalled. If you have elderly neighbors or relatives that may use the product being recalled work with them to determine if their food is safe.

There are many resources to track food recalls including www.recalls.gov, a website that will help you find food and allergy alerts. It is important to remain aware when there is a recall or an alert. When there is a media announcement and you think you may have purchased that food, take a few minutes and look. If you have family or neighbors who aren’t tech savvy check for them as well. A few minutes of sleuth work may help prevent someone from becoming ill. For even more information, read Part 1 of this article.

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