Food Protection Connection: Tracking Recalls
(reprinted from Dietary Manager, May 2007)
Each Food Protection Connection column is approved for 1 CPE hour (level 1) for RDs and DTRs.
Many of the top food-related news items over recent months have revolved around food product recalls. What exactly triggers a recall, and how can a dietary manager stay on top of these unexpected twists to ensure food safety?
The FDA defines a recall as “action taken by a firm to remove a product from the market,” adding, “Recalls may be conducted on a firm’s own initiative, by FDA request, or by FDA order under statutory authority.”
Both the FDA and USDA are involved in food safety. Which agency oversees or requests a recall? The answer is: It depends on the food. The USDA oversees meat, poultry, and eggs. Examples include ground beef, hot dogs, and smoked ham. The FDA oversees all other food, such as bagged spinach, fresh melons, pancake mix, pasta, soup mix, candy, baby food, infant formula, bottled water, pet food, and many other products—in all, about 80 percent of the US food supply.
The defined purpose of a recall is to protect public health, and recalls are classified by level of threat:
- Class I recall—The product poses a reasonable probability of serious adverse health consequences or death. Example: E. coli in ground beef.
- Class II recall—The product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences, or the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote. Example: undeclared milk allergens in soup.
- Class III recall—The product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences. Example: Soda labeled “caffeine-free” is found to contain caffeine.
FDA recall actions also extend to medical products and drugs. The FDA notes that “In 2005, more than 5,300 products regulated by the FDA were recalled. Of these products, 466 were Class I; 3,781 were Class II; and 1,091 were Class III. Most Class I recalls in 2005 were in the food category.”
How a Recall Happens
Although government agencies have the option to order a recall or initiate court orders to enforce regulations, this generally doesn’t happen. Instead, an agency such as the FDA is likely to raise a concern to the manufacturer or distributor, followed by a voluntary recall. In some cases, the manufacturer takes the lead. In February 2006, for instance, Mead Johnson notified the FDA about a concern of metal particles in a batch of infant formula.
When a recall starts into action, the FDA remains involved, evaluating the risks and actions needed. The FDA also takes steps to notify the public. Typically, it will issue media releases to alert the public of a Class I recall, and will consult with manufacturers about the overall plan of communication to consumers. It will also advise on reaching a safe resolution of the problem identified.
According to the FDA, “Companies must report to the FDA whether the recall will be posted on the company’s website, what customers are being instructed to do, and how products should be returned, if applicable. Key information should be communicated clearly to consumers, including the name of the product being recalled, the lot numbers, serial numbers, or other identifying information, and the reason for the recall.”
Peanut Butter Recall
The most highly publicized recall in 2007 has been the recall of Great Value peanut butter (lot numbers beginning with 2111), and Peter Pan peanut butter. Both products were made by ConAgra in the same facility. As of March 2007, the Centers for Disease Control cited Salmonella-related illnesses in 425 people from 44 states, with 71 hospitalizations. All were linked to a strain of bacteria called “Salmonella Tennessee,” found in peanut butter purchased as far back as May 2006.
The FDA response was typical, in that agency officials:
- Alerted the media and the public, with advice not to eat certain lots of peanut butter.
- Notified authorities in other parts of the world where the product may have been distributed.
- Sent field investigators to the manufacturing plant in Georgia to collect samples, review records, evaluate causes of the contamination, and recommend further actions.
Another highly publicized recall is that of “cuts and gravy” style dog and cat food (see More Info.), which certainly illustrates the FDA’s role in protecting the well-being of pets as well as people.
FDA Pilot Program
Because of the sheer volume of food recalls, the FDA launched a pilot education program in February 2007. The objective is to help consumers identify products involved in recall actions through photos of product labels. For examples, photos of recalled peanut butter products are online at: www.fda.gov/oc/po/firmrecalls/photos/ peanutbutter021407.html. The FDA will be trying out this educational approach for six months.
Ahead of the Curve
With many recalls occurring each year in a broad range of food categories, there is no way a dietary manager can expect to avoid every food recall. However, staying informed can help you respond quickly to remove any problematic products from your inventory.
FDA Pet Food Recall Update
Sign up for FDA Recall Announcements by Email
Recalls Website, Covering FDA and USDA
If you haven’t already, you can talk to your distributors and suppliers about recall policies and practices. Your distributors may be your front-line source of information, and will likely assist you in removing any questionable products from inventory in the event of a recall. In addition, you can check the Recalls website (see More Info.), or sign up to receive recall alerts by email.
Consumers and dietary managers alike are also encouraged to report any food product concerns to the appropriate agencies. For information, click the “How to Report a Problem” link on the Recalls website (see More Info.). Dietary managers cannot prevent recall situations, but can stay informed and respond quickly to help protect the health of clients.
By Sue Grossbauer