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Recalls of Food Products Rising

Updated: Mar 24

Foods ranging from lettuce to beef and baby meals are pulled from grocery shelves regularly. Why is a constant deluge of items deemed unsafe for consumption?

The first time I started to notice the number of recalls accelerating was in 2018 — before the pandemic. I occasionally buy pre-packaged salads. For the most part, I go to a farmstand in my area and buy fresh produce to make salads. Sometimes, I get busy or lazy and opt for a pre-made version.

I tend to buy a store brand or one from Dole or Taylor Farms, a manufacturer that supplies to big retail/grocers on the West Coast like Sam's Club and Fred Meyer, stores where I shop. Around this time I had purchased the Fiesta Chopped Salad. It was in my fridge.

Sam's Club sent out a letter to consumers that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised them of e-Coli contamination. I promptly threw it out and have never bought another pre-packaged salad since just to be safe.

Is that paranoid? Perhaps, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. Any produce can get contaminated, but it is more likely if food is processed in a factory setting.

I am not specifically indicting Taylor Farms. The company is one of many that have recalled vegetables. And the problem persists with similar items.

Five years later, in April of 2023, 20 other types of bagged salads were pulled off the shelves due to listeria. This occurred primarily on the East Coast. Fresh Express spinach was recalled just last week from the grocer Publix when a check by the FDA revealed listeria. 

It's not just salads that the feds are recalling. Six days ago, Newsweek reported that the TGI-brand chicken nuggets were removed from stores due to possible plastic contamination. The product was recalled nationwide. Two separate customers found "fragments of plastic safety glasses" in packages they bought.

The contamination was traced to a work-shift event in a Van Buren, Arkansas plant on October 3. Kraft Heinz, the parent company, is working with the distributor Simmons Prepared Food to investigate and ensure consumer safety. 

Every food item you can think of, from granola bars and cereals tainted with salmonella to cod and pollack recalled just yesterday for 'life-threatening' allergic reactions (because soy content was not listed on boxes), has been pulled at one time. Even pet owners can't relax, given the 2023 recall of Kirkland Brand Dog Food.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the Department of Commerce all watchdog our food sources carefully. Their monitoring picks up dangerous and contaminated products. Partnering with the aforementioned agencies are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).

Why are there so many government-enforced recalls now? One reason is that testing methods for contaminants are now much more sophisticated. Whole genome sequencing has made it quicker and easier to identify the source of a pathogen. In addition, inspections are done more frequently by the FDA and other watchdog agencies. 

Entrepreneur magazine said that more foreign objects are being discovered in products, as is the case with plastic from factory workers' safety glasses in chicken nuggets. This July, Trader Joe's recalled cookies because possible pieces of rocks were found.

But according to the Feds, it's not all gloom and doom. In a statement, the FDA wrote "It is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects." 

Awareness of recalls spreads more rapidly through social media. Fortunately, deaths do not result as much as one would think when reading about recalls. The CDC estimated that 3,000 people in the US die every year from contaminated food or beverages. The current US population is over 335,860,924. Translated, this means your chances of dying from food contamination are 0.00089%, which is truly negligible.

Regardless, I'll carefully check everything I buy, wash foods at least twice and stay alert. Maybe there’s such a thing as a healthy dose of paranoia.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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