Flood waters recede, but hazards to Carolinians persist
Food safety, including food recalls and alerts, is one of the more important issues covered in this column.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for recalls involving meat, including fish, poultry and processed egg products (https://tinyurl.com/y9v6lr76).
Recalls and alerts for all other food products are issued by the Food and Drug Administration (https://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm, under the filters, click on Food under the “Filter by Recall Type” drop-down menu).
Access to a single listing covering recalls and alerts issued by both agencies can be found on the Foodsafety.gov website at https://tinyurl.com/ybjb7jtb.
A wide range of situations result in the decision by the USDA or FDA to issue a recall. Many recalls do not result in any identified consumer illnesses. The reasons for issuing a recall range from “misbranding and an undeclared ingredient” to “possible E coli O26 contamination.”
Public health alerts are issued are issued for Class I recalls when there has been a suspected or documented outbreak of an illness related to contamination of a food product.
In the case of Class I recalls, the USDA issues a list of retailers who have received the product. The agency cautions that “lists may not include all retail locations that have received the recalled product or may include retail locations that did not actually receive the recalled product. Therefore, it is important that you use the product-specific identification information, in addition to this list of retail stores, to check meat or poultry products in your possession to see if they have been recalled.”
On Sept. 27, the FDA issued a draft of possible changes to its policy regarding identifying retailers.
Besides identifying retailers that may have received tainted food, the changes propose that retailers be able to notify the customers who have purchased one of those products. This would be especially possible for retailers who have loyalty card programs and have the computer capacity to keep track of each customer’s purchases in order to provide them with coupons for items they regularly purchase. On several occasions, our register tapes have included information on a recalled item that we have purchased and have indicated that if we have not already consumed this product, we can return it to the store for a full refund.
While there are times that we are concerned about the large amount of data that various retailers compile on our every purchase, in cases like food safety recalls, we see a beneficial use for that data. We would hope that when the FDA draft guidance on food safety recalls has been approved, those retailers who are already compiling purchasing data on their consumers will integrate the recall information into their systems and notify their customers of the recall.
Certainly, general press releases by the agencies in the case of widespread Class I recalls are important in making the public aware of the problem. At the same time targeted notices on register tapes of those customers who have purchased the recalled product will go a long way toward reducing the number of people who become ill from the consumption of tainted foods. We hope that all retailers will use the retailer lists provided by the USDA-FSIA and the FDA to protect their customers from contracting a food-borne illness.