Food Recalls: The Rising Tide

Food recalls are an inevitable result of the animal factory system and the use of its waste as fertilizer on food crops.

The federal government makes recalls a part of their food safety objective and are the result of a joint effort between the USDA, FDA, CDC and NIH. Each organization has fairly well defined responsibilities in protecting us from contaminated food although at times it seems about as effective as putting up a few sandbags to stop a tsunami.

Selected Federal Agencies
with a Role in Food Safety

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.

The mission statement sounds great but the system seems to be broken. Food recalls are so commonplace that we hardly even notice them; many of them aren't even publicized.

The massive peanut salmonella contamination of 2008–2009 alone killed nine and sickened an estimated 22,500 people; only a few weeks later, contaminated frozen cookie dough sent 35 people to the hospital. These tragic, inexcusable events point out the fact that something is terribly wrong.

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Making Supper Safe: One Man's Quest to Learn the Truth about Food Safety

In his book shown above Ben Hewitt exposes the vulnerabilities inherent to the US food industry, where the majority of our processing facilities are inspected only once every seven years, and where government agencies lack the necessary resources to act on early warning signs. Click on the book image or link above to look it over or purchase it.

The most dangerous aspect of our food system isn’t just its potential to make us acutely ill, but the ever expanding distance between us and our sources of nourishment.

While the mission of FSIS is just what we need, the problem is that there are not enough inspectors to adequately police the producers and many inspection functions are left to company employees.

One ongoing complaint is that agribusiness lobbyists often draft or influence the inspection policies and procedures that are adopted by the USDA.

Can self policing really work in the face of high speed disassembly line and intense pressure to get the product packaged and out the door fast?

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA is charged with protecting consumers against impure, unsafe, and fraudulently labeled products. The FDA, through its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), regulates foods other than the meat, poultry, and egg products regulated by FSIS.

FDA is also responsible for the safety of drugs, medical devices, biologics, animal feed and drugs, cosmetics, and radiation emitting devices.

Did you catch that reference to animal feed in the prior paragraph. Yes, the FDA also regulates that can of cat food, bag of dog food, or box of dog treats or snacks in your pantry.

All pet lovers should realize that tainted commercial pet food kills a lot of pooches and kitties every year and recalls in the pet food industry may just outnumber those of people food. Ann Martin wrote a very revealing book on the subject, copyrighted 2008, although it has been updated. Shocking! Click the book cover above to check it out for yourself.

How's that working out for us? Once again, there is not enough inspectors and too much influence on the FDA by very industries and companies they are supposed to watch over.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC leads federal efforts to gather data on food borne illnesses, investigate food borne illnesses and outbreaks, and monitor the effectiveness of prevention and control efforts in reducing food borne illnesses.

CDC also plays a key role in building state and local health department epidemiology, laboratory, and environmental health capacity to support food borne disease surveillance and outbreak response.

There are numerous links to online information concerning food recalls. A few of the more helpful ones with current information are listed below.

For current food recalls concerning beef, poultry and eggs, go to:

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

This page contains summary data on active recall cases. After a recall is completed, it will be removed from this listing, but will be included in the Recall Case Archive.

The link under Product Recalled will take you to a news release (Class I and II recalls) or a Recall Notification Report, or RNR (for Class III recalls). Both news releases and RNRs contain complete information about the recall.

Other links are:

http://www.recalls.gov/food.html

http://www.foodsafety.gov/index.html

The last link above is the gateway to Federal Food Safety Information.

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Role of Government Agencies

A good source of information on how the recall concept works in the food industy is the Ohio State University Extension Program.

An excellent Factsheet on the subject is "Understanding the Recall Concept in the Food Industry" by Gönül Kaletunç, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Extension Food Safety Engineer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; and Ferhan Özadali, Ph.D., Director of R&D/QA, Hirzel Canning Co. & Farms, Toledo, Ohio. A few excerpts from their paper are given below.

Even though food recalls are a company management decision, a government agency can force the company to recall potentially misleading and/or hazardous product from distribution and marketing.

Two government agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) share regulatory responsibility for food product recalls. Although all recalls are voluntary, these agencies may ask the company to initiate a recall.

To date, no company has ever refused a request from these government agencies to recall a potentially unsafe or hazardous product.

However, if a company refuses to recall a product, the FDA and the USDA FSIS have legal authority to detain the product and to stop operations for good reason if the product constitutes a danger to public health.

The products under the jurisdiction of these two agencies differ. The FDA is responsible for domestic and imported foods.

The USDA FSIS is responsible for food recalls of meat and poultry. As an exception, responsibility for eggs is shared by the FDA and the USDA.

The USDA FSIS regulates pasteurized egg products (eggs that have been removed from their shells for further processing) and the FDA assumes responsibility for egg products after leaving the processing plant.

Take Responsibility

If all of this seems very confusing, perhaps it's time to start making better choices in our food selection and preparation. The bottom line is that we are responsible for our health and making the right choices in what we eat is the key.


Classification Definitions and Examples

Class I:

This type of recall involves a health hazard where a reasonable probability exists that eating the food would cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.

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Examples are meat contaminated with L. monocytogenes in a ready-to-eat food product or E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef or allergens such as peanuts or eggs (not listed on the label).

Class II:

This type of recall indicates a potential health hazard where a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food exists, or if the resulting condition is temporary or medically reversible.

Examples are the presence of FD&C Yellow #5 dye in candy; or the presence of dry milk, a Class II allergen, as an ingredient in sausage without mention of the dry milk on the label.

Class III:

These types of food recalls involves situations in which eating the food will not or is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.

For example, a package containing fewer or lower weight products than shown on the package label or improperly labeled processed meat in which added water is not listed on the label as required by federal regulations are class III cases.

Now that we understand the three classifications we can do our own assessment of the level of risk when we hear about a food recall being a class I, II or III.

The danger is that we don't always hear about current food recalls and may already have the contaminated product in our freezer, refrigerator vegetable bin or pantry just waiting to be served up in a family meal.

The message here is that we can't rely on our local newspaper or national media to keep us up to date on all food recalls; there is just too many.

The best source for up-to-date Recall and Alert information was shown above but is repeated here for emphasis. It is the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

There is even a place in their online site where we can sign up to receive e-mail alerts; not a bad idea these days. Yes, this is the same link as given above but it's worth repeating for emphasis.


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