Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Health Care and Recalled Foods

What happens when a food manufacturer or distributor makes a mistake with a food product? What possible ramifications are there in the market place when food has to be recalled? What is the cost in terms of liability and taking the products of the shelves of thousands of stores? When food products that have major safety and health issues are not recalled, the potential for catastrophy is enormous.

One minute you're happily munching; the next, your snack is all over the news. According to, if you consume food that's just been recalled, check the batch info on the label and call the product's toll-free number or contact the shop manager. Recalls cast a wide net, and you may not be affected. If your batch is involved, don't schedule anything strenuous for the next 24 to 72 hours, when symptoms (nausea, diarrhea) may arise. Drink lots of fluids, and have your doc's number handy just in case. Be wary of hidden ingredients, like sliced pistachios in biscotti.

The US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) website:, and the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website: have tips for consumers to find out what the latest recalled products are and how to avoid problems. They also tell consumers what to do in case of coming in contact with items that have been recalled. According to, the food industry is responsible for producing safe food. Several government agencies are responsible for setting food safety standards, conducting inspections, ensuring that standards are met, and maintaining a strong enforcement program to deal with those who do not comply with standards.

According to FSIS, the inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of tax dollars. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors. In these efforts to protect the safety and integrity of meat and poultry products, FSIS works with many other agencies, including other agencies within the USDA, State inspection programs, the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since the Federal inspection program began at the turn of the century, the meat and poultry industries have grown and changed significantly. In the early 1900's, most meat came from local slaughter plants and was used locally. Further processing was limited to simple products such as sausages. Today, however, a wide variety of meat and poultry products are on the market. Animals are slaughtered and meat is processed in sophisticated, high-volume plants. The meat is often shipped great distances to reach consumers. As the industry changed, FSIS began changing inspection. In earlier days, the primary concern of the inspectors was animal diseases, and they relied almost exclusively on visual inspection of animals, products, and plant operations. However, refinements in animal production reduced disease and created a more homogeneous animal population. Thus, the concerns of today's inspectors are broader and include unseen hazards such as microbiological and chemical contamination.

But what about foods produced internationally and exported to the US for domestic consumption? Americans who consume imported beef, poultry and egg products can be confident that the products are safe, regardless of their origin, according to the FSIS. The federal government has oversight for all foods imported into the US:
--FSIS employs about 74 inspectors to monitor food brought into the United States from foreign destinations.
--Customs has hundreds of entry points, and much of the meat and poultry imported into the United States can come through any of them. It then needs to go to an import inspection facility. --These facilities are located at about 30 border locations.
--Imports are inspected in official import establishments as opposed to boats, planes or trains.
--The United States imports more than $8.5 billion worth of meat, poultry and egg products each year.
--Approximately 6 to 8 percent of meat consumed in the United States comes from outside our borders.
--n 2006, 44 percent of the meat and poultry products imported to the United States came from Canada.
--The United States imports more eggs than it raises here. Most of these imports are processed into low-cholesterol egg substitutes or commercial eggs prepared for restaurants and other institutional settings such as hospitals.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, for the consumer, safe food handling begins in the grocery store. Pay attention to the following tips:
--When you're running errands, grocery shop last. In the store, grab the cold (and frozen) foods just before check-out so they don't have a chance to thaw out.
--If you live some distance from the grocery store, use coolers for perishables.
--Take food straight home to the refrigerator. Do not leave food in a hot car.
--Buy what you can use by the "use-by" date. If you eat food after the use-by date, it may be spoiled or diminished in quality.
--Do not buy food in poor condition. Make sure cold food is cold and frozen food shows no signs of "freezer burn" or leakage. Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids; if you notice any of these, let the store manager know.

Consumer reactions to a food recall are often mixed, according to a report by Rutgers and available through the Food Policy Institute. While many hear about the recall and discard or return the product, not every consumer responds appropriately, so people continue to become ill as the result of eating contaminated food. This happens for several reasons. Some consumers are unaware of particular recalls because the right information never reaches them. Others hear about the recall but ignore it, wrongly assuming that the information does not apply to them. And, some consumers hear about the recall, but for a variety of reasons do not check their homes for the recalled product and may ultimately consume it. Finally, some consumers who are aware of the recall simply choose to disregard it, and eat the recalled product anyway. At the other extreme, some consumers may change their purchasing, food preparation, and
consumption practices in ways that are not necessarily warranted by the recall. Some may avoid the recalled product for months (or years) after the recall has ended. They may also shun other products made by the same company or avoid products from other manufacturers similar to that which has been recalled. In doing so, consumers may unnecessarily avoid otherwise healthy, nutritious foods. This can result in severe financial losses for the companies involved, and can have ancillary economic effects across and beyond an entire food category.

Therefore, according to, after identifying a contaminated food product, the challenge faced by public health officials, food manufacturers, distributers, and retailers is to quickly and efficiently provide information to the public, get consumers to pay attention to the recall, and motivate them to take appropriate actions. In doing so, they must convince consumers that the problem warranting the recall is significant, that the recall applies to them personally, and that ignoring the recall or failing to take the recommend actions might result in serious consequences. At the same time, consumers must be reassured that the problem has been identified, is limited in scope, and that the recall will effectively eliminate the immediate risks associated with it. Moreover they must be convinced that the underlying cause has been corrected, ensuring the future safety of the product. In short, to be effective, recalls must generate sufficient attention and motivation among consumers that they take appropriate protective actions, but must not be so alarming as to unnecessarily frighten consumers such that they avoid food products that are otherwise safe.

What should you do if you've already eaten a recalled product? Wait and see, according to Just because a product was recalled doesn't mean it was contaminated. (That's why companies like to emphasize the word voluntary when they pull food off the shelves.) And exposure doesn't mean you'll get sick. But most people exposed to salmonella—bacteria that originate in the feces of animals and humans—do develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours. If this happens, you should call a doctor, who might prescribe antibiotics or just tell you to drink lots of fluids. Often the sickness will pass in four to seven days, although in more severe cases—when bacteria get into the bloodstream—salmonella poisoning can lead to arterial infections, heart inflammation, and Reiter's syndrome, a form of arthritis. These extreme reactions are most common among the young, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. If you find a defective item in your pantry at home, most companies will either replace it or give you your money back.

Make sure that you keep aware of any notices about recalled foods, and that you properly dispose of any food products that have been recalled. Eating contaminated food can make you sick, and to avoid any possible health issues related to consumption of recalled food products you should heed any warnings that you hear or read about. Safety first is a great precaution. And remember, if food looks bad, smells bad, or tastes bad it likely is bad. Be smart, and listen to your senses. Pay attention to the news, and watch what you eat.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.


Blanket said...

It is difficult to manage the perishable when shopping for a lot ...good tips here.

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