The Ins and Outs of Food Recall

Posted by escott | Posted in Food Recall, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI, USDA | Posted on 17-09-2013

In the year between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 610 food recalls in the US and Canada. That’s more food recalls than there are days in a year. But even though recalls are so frequent, many don’t understand how they work or even what they really are. Jessica White-Cason breaks down the process in the article, “Understanding Food Recalls: The Recall Process Explained,” which first appeared on Food Sentry and later appeared on Food Safety News. The article discusses the recall process in a fair amount of detail, but here are the basics.

Food recalls can begin in a few different ways. The most common way occurs when a food company finds a safety problem with its food supply and reports it to one of the agencies that oversees food recall—either the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Other times, recalls start when the FDA or FSIS discovers unsafe food during one of their inspections or sampling programs. The last—and probably the worst—way a recall can start is if foodborne illness breaks out due to a specific food product and a health department reports it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA and FSIS have three classification levels for food recalls. Class I recalls are for the most dangerous food safety problems, the ones with a good chance of hurting people. These recalls are often heavily publicized because the FDA and FSIS want to spread the word in order to prevent anyone from buying or eating the dangerous food. Class II recalls occurr when a food product has a small chance of damaging someone’s health. Class III recalls are essentially the “better safe than sorry” recalls. These happen when there is almost no chance of a food product endangering anyone, but a problem has still been discovered. Although class II and III recalls don’t get much media attention, you can find out which recalls are in progress by visiting the FDA and FSIS websites.

So why does food get recalled? To put it simply, the food either contains something that it isn’t supposed to or it has been labeled incorrectly or incompletely, usually called “misbranding.” For example, food may be recalled because it contains pieces of plastic or traces of a toxic pesticide, or because dangerous bacteria like salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes may have contaminated it. A common example of misbranding happens when a food product contains a common allergenic ingredient like eggs or peanuts, but the label doesn’t say so. Unlabeled allergens, salmonella contamination, and listeria contamination cause the most recalls in the US; last year, salmonella contamination was behind more than one-third of the 610 food recalls.

Once need for a recall has been found, the recalling company works with the FDA or FSIS to make the recall as speedy and effective as possible. In almost all cases, companies with a compromised food supply are eager to make things right; if they don’t, their reputations and business suffer, and they can be shut down by the FDA. In the end, it is the company’s duty to make sure unsafe food is retrieved from the market, and a recall remains in progress until the FDA or FSIS agrees that the safety issue has been resolved.

Katie Heil


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Adenovirus: Don’t Eat, Drink, or Breathe

Posted by escott | Posted in Be Healthy, CDC, FDA, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI, Spotlight Foodborne Illness | Posted on 26-08-2013

Have you ever heard of adenovirus? I hadn’t until I attended the 2013 Southwest Environmental Health Conference in Laughlin, NV. However, it’s actually quite common—and contagious. And after being introduced to adenovirus at the conference, I was hooked. So I decided to learn more.

According to research, there are 55 different types of human adenovirus types numbered HAdV-1 to HAdV-55. Each of these types comes in seven different species from A through G. Different types of adenoviruses cause different types of sicknesses including fever, respiratory disease, conjunctivitis (pink eye), cystitis (bladder infection), and gastroenteritis. The sickness you contract depends on what type of adenovirus you are exposed to. For example, if you breathe in a certain type of adenovirus, you may get respiratory disease, but if you swallow adenovirus… Well, you can probably guess.

The type of adenovirus that is spread through food and water through the fecal-oral route is called Enteric adenovirus, or adenovirus occurring in the intestines. If you eat food that was prepared by someone with adenovirus who didn’t wash their hands properly, or swim in a pool that isn’t properly chlorinated, you could get this type of adenovirus.  It causes (if you haven’t guessed already) gastroenteritis, which is also known as the bane of human existence: “the stomach flu.”

As many foodborne illnesses do, adenoviruses most often attack those with weakened immune systems, including elderly adults, pregnant women, and children. In fact, Enteric adenovirus is responsible for 5 to 20% of gastroenteritis in young children. Interestingly, however, 85% of children develop immunity to the disease by the time they are four years old. But of the remaining 15%, some have persistent adenovirus infections in their intestines. These people may not have symptoms, but the virus is shed for months—and even years!

So how do we prevent this foul illness from happening? The answers are actually pretty simple:

  1. Wash hands frequently (especially if you work with children)
  2. Cover up sneezes or coughs properly (aim for the elbow)
  3. Avoid food preparation tasks while you are sick
  4. Make sure you swim in pools that are properly chlorinated

Aubrey Pontious

Sources:, http://parasites.czu


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When to Throw It Out: Freezer Food

Posted by escott | Posted in Beef, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI, USDA | Posted on 12-08-2013

There you are, digging in the freezer for a bag of frozen veggies, when instead you find half a pound of frozen ground beef. How long has it been in there? The color looks a little off, but the packaging is OK. Is the meat still good? To toss, or not to toss—that is the question.

Bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses do not grow in the freezer; so long as the food was frozen safely, it’s still safe to eat. When bacteria are frozen they go into hibernation mode, which keeps them from multiplying to dangerous levels. Freezing food, however, does not remove any toxins released before the food was frozen. So the faster you put perishable food into the freezer, the less time bacteria have to multiply and potentially contaminate the food.

Although freezing food keeps it safe, the quality of frozen food can deteriorate over time. If you suspect that your food has been frozen for a while, check it for freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when air comes in direct contact with a food surface and dries it out, leaving grayish-brown spots on the food.  If freezer burn is mild, cut out the freezer burn spots and use the rest of the item. If the food has heavy freezer burn, the overall quality of the item could be bad enough that you want to toss it out. Remember that ground beef? If it was frozen in a safe condition, it’s still safe to eat when you find it months later, even though it might not be as tasty. As such, consider using it in a spicy dish that will compensate for the beef’s loss of flavor, like tacos or chili.

Next time you find that forgotten freezer item, take a look before you toss it out. Chances are that it’s still good.

To learn more about frozen food and how long food quality lasts in the freezer, visit the Freezing and Food Safety page provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

- Suzanna Davis

Sources:, Freezing and Food Safety

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Chicago Food Handlers Produce Mediocre Scores in Food Safety Survey

Posted by escott | Posted in Food Safety | Posted on 06-08-2013

A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Health discovered an unsettling gap in Chicago food handlers’ food safety knowledge. More than 700 English- and Spanish-speaking food workers participated in the food safety knowledge survey covering topics from food storage to cooking temperatures to hygiene. The participants were of varied racial and educational backgrounds, and many were seasoned employees with an average of ten years’ experience in the food industry. The average knowledge score of these food handler veterans, however, was only a meager 72%.

The concepts that stumped nearly all of the survey participants related to temperatures for cooking and holding foods. Less than 2% of the food handlers surveyed knew that bacteria grow best between 41°F and 135°F (the Temperature Danger Zone), and only 17% knew that ground beef must be cooked to 155°F to reduce germs to safe levels. Just 20% of those surveyed knew the necessary temperature for cooking poultry, and less than 40% of participants knew that cooked rice can harbor dangerous bacteria.

Knowledgeable food managers, however, could potentially fill these food safety knowledge gaps for food handlers, especially in states like Illinois where food handler certification is not required. In fact, the managers participating in this study achieved higher scores on their knowledge surveys, with a 79% average. But, is this barely higher score enough to protect Chicago consumers from foodborne illness? Researchers Manes, Liu, and Dworkin weren’t so sure. The food managers’ knowledge gaps were very similar to those of their employees: less than a third of the managers knew the correct cooking temperatures for hamburger and chicken.

So how can we solve the problem? Manes, Liu, and Dworkin suggest a few ways to improve food safety education, such as higher certification standards for Illinois food managers and story-based training for food handlers. These educational techniques may improve learning outcomes, especially for individuals who struggle with language and cultural barriers. The study says it best, “A reduction of foodborne illness by only 10% would keep five million Americans from getting sick each year.”

Fortunately for Chicago consumers, Illinois has recently amended the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act, which will be effective beginning July 1, 2014. These amendments state that any individual seeking a food service sanitation manager certificate must complete a minimum of 8 hours of Department of Public Health-approved training including passing an exam with a score of at least 75%. Additionally, all food handlers, other than the manager holding a food service sanitation manager certificate, must receive training in basic safe food handling principles within 30 days of hire. With these new changes, consumers can now look forward to food safety becoming a top priority not only in Chicago, but also in the entire state of Illinois.

Katie Heil

Source: Manes, M. R., Liu, L.C., & Dworkin, M.S. (2013). Baseline knowledge survey of restaurant food handlers in suburban Chicago: Do restaurant food handlers know what they need to know to keep consumers safe? Journal of Environmental Health, 76(1), 18-26.


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How Food Becomes Contaminated

Posted by escott | Posted in CDC, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness | Posted on 30-07-2013


From plants and animals to vegetables and meat, food must undergo a multi-step process to get from its raw, natural state to its ready-to-eat condition on your plate. This process is called the Food Production Chain. There are many stops along the Food Production Chain where your food can become contaminated, but understanding the overall process can help us identify trouble spots where we can stop foodborne illness in its tracks.


In the production stage, plants and animals are cultivated for food. They can be produced on domesticated facilities, like farms and ranches, or they can be harvested from the wild, like some types of seafood and mushrooms.

Contamination in this phase often happens as a part of the natural growing process. For example:

  • Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated from polluted irrigation water.
  • A hen carrying salmonella bacteria can pass that contamination to the yoke of an egg before it is laid.
  • Fish that live in tropical reefs can become contaminated from toxins in the small animals they eat.


Processing is the stage where raw food is readied for distribution. For fruits and vegetables, this could mean being scrubbed, sliced, canned, trimmed, or bagged. Nuts may be chopped, roasted, or ground. Milk products are typically pasteurized, and can be made into products like cheese and yogurt. For animals, the process begins with slaughter. Meat can then be cut into pieces, ground, frozen, cooked, or smoked. Different elements of processed food can also be combined to make more complex foods, like a pizza.

Contamination in this phase often occurs when food comes into contact with a contaminated item. For example:

  • During the slaughtering process, meat can become contaminated with pathogens from an animal’s hide or organs, such as the intestines.
  • Peanut butter can become contaminated if it is made from raw peanuts or from roasted peanuts that were stored in unclean conditions.
  • Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated if they are washed or packed in polluted water.


Distribution involves transporting food from a farm or processing plant to a place where food will be distributed directly to the customer, such as a grocery store, restaurant, or cafeteria.

Contamination in this phase often occurs as the food is being transported. For example:

  • Perishable foods left out on a dock or in a warehouse could warm to temperatures that allow for rapid bacteria growth.
  • Fruits and vegetables transported in a truck that was not properly cleaned after transporting animals or animal products.
  • A glass jar that breaks in transport thereby spilling its contents and contaminating nearby foods.


Preparation involves making the food ready to be eaten. This can refer to a variety of things, such as combining and cooking ingredients, or it can be as simple as reheating food.

Contamination in this phase can occur in a variety of ways. For example:

  • A cutting board that is not washed after being used to cut meat or poultry can transfer pathogens to other items that are sliced on the same board.
  • A food handler who is sick or who does not wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom can spread pathogens by touching food.
  • A frozen turkey that is put in the fridge to thaw where its juices can drip onto other foods and contaminate them.

Preventing Foodborne Illness

Food handler regulations are designed to eliminate contamination in the Food Production Chain. Some of the most effective ways to prevent foodborne illness include:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the restroom
  • Wash produce thoroughly
  • Cook meat at the proper temperature for the proper amount of time
  • Separate ready-to-eat foods from foods that need more preparation
  • Keep perishable items out of the temperature danger zone (­41–135° F) where bacteria grow most rapidly

As we identify contamination points and follow food safety guidelines, we can take action to stop foodborne illness before it occurs.

- By Suzanna Davis


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