While most food manufacturers and resellers do everything they can to keep all products 100 percent safe for consumers, unfortunately issues do crop up more often than anyone would like. In fact, the FDA recalls close to 100 million units of food every quarter.
When you’re new to working in the food industry, it is important to be aware of how food recalls come about, and why, and what steps need to be taken if items are found to be harmful.
How Recalls Come About
In the U.S., the FDA is the department responsible for regulating and imposing safety standards on the majority of the nation’s food supply (around 80 percent), for both domestic and imported foods.
The government office also oversees the safety of pet foods. The remaining percentage of food items, in particular meat, poultry, and some egg products, are overseen by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a branch of the USDA.
These two agencies typically find out about an issue with the food supply because a manufacturer or distributor becomes aware of a safety issue and contacts them directly; or because an inspection of a manufacturing facility or importing business by one of the departments reveals a cause for concern.
In addition, the FDA or FSIS tend to conduct various sampling programs, and one of these can result in a particular food item or manufacturer failing a test. Alternatively, an individual state health department (or multiple offices around the country) could contact the CDC about illnesses caused by specific food products. If this happens, the FDA or FSIS would be alerted to the problem by the CDC.
Recalls can be classified in three different ways, according to the potential seriousness of the case. The FDA and FSIS use the same classifications, namely:
- Class I recalls—for situations in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the affected food will cause health issues or death;
- Class II recalls— for situations in which there is a remote possibility of adverse health consequences if the food is eaten; and
- Class III recalls—for situations in which eating the affected food won’t cause any adverse health problems.
For most food recall cases, the recalls are voluntary and initiated by the particular manufacturer or distributor involved. Other times, when one of the government agencies asks for a recall, the firm that manufactures the item will be responsible for taking action to get the product off shelves. If this business does not respond to requests from the FDA or FSIS to instigate a recall, legal action can be taken.
In accordance to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA has the authority to shut down operations at food production facilities if the department believes there is a serious threat to public health involved. In September 2012, the agency exercised this authority for the first time by shutting down a peanut-processing factory owned by Sunland Inc. This came about because a Salmonella contamination was discovered.
How Recalls Work
When a food manufacturer or distributor voluntarily initiates a recall, the FDA or FSIS will be called upon to evaluate the potential severity of the recall. The relevant agency will need to ensure that the company involved makes reasonable efforts to correct the issue and/or removes the affected products from shelves.
Furthermore, when the situation requires widespread public awareness, in a short amount of time, the regulatory bodies will seek publicity about the case via the media. Most of the time, recalls are simply listed online on the agency websites so that consumers, resellers, and other interested parties can read the information as needed.