Food recalls, what should I do?

How to evaluate a food recall and decide what action to take.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all lately, you may have heard about a widespread recall of frozen fruits and vegetables. The recall implicates products from CRF Frozen Foods all the way back to May 2014, and has forced other companies to also recall foods that utilized the implicated food in their products. So far, over 42 different brands in the U.S. and Canada have recalls out due to this potential illness risk, and the list seems to grow daily. So, what do you do when there is a food recall?

The first thing to do is get more information about the recall. is one place to find out about recalls. The USDA, FDA and CDC all have information websites about food recalls as well. Once there, you can easily find further details about the recall of interest. Food recalls occur for many reasons: some are due to potential foodborne illnesses; others due to improper labeling on packages; also for physical hazards like metal shavings or plastic; and sometimes for food spoilage reasons like mold. In addition to these websites, retail stores often have information about recalls affecting products they sell available at customer service.

Once you’ve gotten accurate information about the recall you can make a decision as to what to do with the product in question. Asking yourself the following questions will help guide you in your decision. Does the product you have fall within the recalled products? Many times recalls are for very specific products that were packaged in certain places or on certain dates. If your product falls outside those parameters it isn’t necessary to take action. Will consuming the food cause serious threat to your health? In the case of foodborne bacteria or viruses, the answer is most likely “yes,” and the food should be discarded properly. Other times, in the case of mislabeling, the product is still perfectly edible as long as the mislabeling doesn’t lead to consumption of allergens.

When foods are recalled for physical hazards like plastic or glass, it depends more on the products themselves and whether or not you can find and remove the hazards adequately before consuming. Finally, what are the manufacturer’s recommendations for treatment of the product? Most manufacturer’s offer hotlines to answer questions if you’re not sure what to do. Food safety organizations like the CDC will also advise on what should be done with the food. Sometimes it needs to be sealed (so no other people or animals will eat it) and put in the trash. Sometimes it just needs to be cooked properly. Often, in the case of the frozen food recall, you can bring your products back to the store where they were purchased and they will dispose of them.

The bottom line is, don’t panic and throw out all your food when you hear about a food recall. Instead, Michigan State University Extention recommends making a fact-based, informed decision that will help keep you and your family safe. If you have further questions about food recalls contact your local MSU Extension office. 

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