Far too often, food contaminated during the manufacturing process is recalled, but word of the recall never reaches consumers or even the owners of grocery stores, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Here are some disturbing excerpts from the story:
Until three years ago, Kenneth Maxwell enjoyed Banquet chicken and turkey pot pies so much he ate them three or four times a week. They were easy to prepare, and Maxwell could eat one for lunch and quickly return to work as an electrician.
When cases of salmonella poisoning led the pies’ manufacturer, ConAgra Foods, to issue a product recall in the fall of 2007, Maxwell did not hear about it and continued to eat them. He bought several pot pies about two weeks after the recall was launched, when they should have been pulled from store shelves, and became violently ill, he said.
Maxwell’s experience reflects common problems with food recalls: They routinely fail to recover all of the product they seek and, according to experts, sometimes even leave tainted foods in stores, putting consumers at risk of becoming ill from potentially deadly food-borne pathogens.
In 2009, for instance, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture was involved in 59 recalls in which the amount of food sought and recovered was known, 56 came up short of the amount they identified as potentially tainted or produced at a time when factory controls were lax.
Two of those efforts highlight how far short recalls can fall. Last July a Denver processor announced a recall of more than 460,000 pounds of ground beef tied to a salmonella outbreak but recovered only 119,000 pounds. In October a New York processor announced a recall of 545,000 pounds of ground beef tied to an outbreak of E. coli; it recovered 795 pounds, according to the USDA.
Because recalls are described as voluntary, some experts say the owners of supermarkets, especially smaller stores, can mistakenly believe it is acceptable to leave recalled products on the shelves.
And while the federal government publishes notices about recalls, it depends on the news media, manufacturers and retailers to spread the news. Many consumers are unaware a product has been recalled.
The USDA, researchers and food safety advocates say the urgency and the reach of recalls must be improved if recalls are to be more effective and the number of Americans sickened by food-borne pathogens is to decline.