It seems like every day there is another food recall plastered all over the news. Today, I heard that Giant Food is recalling its Hot Pockets because they may have used diseased beef. These recalls have become pretty common and they are not only regarding meat products. Several recalls have been issued in the past for pre-packaged spinach, romaine lettuce, among others.
According to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Recall Summary raw data from the years 2005-2012, the number of total recalls have increased 55% from 2005 (53 recalls) to 2012 (82 recalls) while the number of recalls due to undeclared allergens have increased 222% from 2005 (9 recalls) to 2012 (29 recalls). 1 Although there has been a large increase in the number of total recalls, it is important to note the percentage increase in total undeclared allergens has increased at a far greater rate than the total recalls.
Has the FSIS become better at identifying undeclared allergens? Have companies become more inclined to report allergens? Regardless of the answer, I think that the movement towards identifying undeclared allergens in food labels is very beneficial in avoiding any unnecessary public health consequences. Many children as well as adults have or have developed allergies. Imagine if a company used peanuts and it wasn’t reported! The fact that the number of recalls for undeclared allergens has increased shows that someone recognizes the need for precision in labeling in order to avoid unnecessary allergic reactions or deaths and costly lawsuits.
Although total recalls have not increased as much as undeclared allergens, the 55% increase from 2005 to 2012 is concerning. Within the past week or two, the news has publicized the possible diseased beef recalls. The Sochi Olympics, fortunate to the cattle industry, has masked the amount of publicity that the recalls have received relative to the 2013 spinach recalls. The food industry should strive towards ensuring the safety of the food that is consumed by the public. It is difficult to be perfect in quality control, but that is a strategic goal that the industry needs to strive to achieve as one of their primary objectives.
With the general trend moving towards people being more concerned about the food they consume, hopefully, the increasing number of total recalls will level out and decrease. It would be a utopia if the food we consumed was never recalled.
- Raw data for Total Recalls and Undeclared Allergens for 2005 and 2012 were taken from the U.S. F.S.I.S., retrieved on February 18, 2014. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-summaries