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

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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


The Debate over Ractopamine

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Beef, FDA, Food Safety, In the News, Science and Technology | Posted on 02-01-2013

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Farm Pigs

Ever heard of Ractopamine? Until recently, it probably isn’t a word you have just heard in your every day conversation. If you follow food safety, however, it is likely you have heard a bit more about it lately. Ractopamine is a drug that is quite controversial and is being strongly opposed by both animal rights and food safety groups. This drug is used to increase growth and leanness of meat and is given to turkeys, cows, and pigs. It is used most in pigs, with limits as high as 60-80 percent. The FDA approved Ractopamine for pigs in 1999, which led to approvals for other animals in recent years. These furious groups are taking a stand, as neither finds the benefits to be worth jeopardizing the health of humans or farm animals (depending which group they are with.)

Elisabeth Holmes, who is the Center for Food Safety’s staff attorney, said “The continued use and abuse of ractopamine in our food supply needs to be put in check.” This push is particularly timely, as trade between the U.S. and Russia has been halted due to Russia’s new “no tolerance policy” with the drug. Even if the U.S. doesn’t find the food safety and animal rights groups’ reasons to be sufficient, it may want to jump on board, as trade brings in approximately $500 million in profits for the country.

Ractopamine Protest

So for now, the FDA is not getting a break from these groups, as they believe strongly that continuing to use the product does nothing but harm the safety of both humans and animals. Helena Bottemiller, columnist for Food Safety News, writes “The petition contends that the FDA needs to do a more thorough job of assessing the potential harmful effects of ractopamine, a beta-agonist that mimics stress hormones and increases the rate at which animals convert feed into muscle.”

Many argue that the research done on the meat and its effects on those who consume it is simply not sufficient evidence that it is safe. There is some evidence that pigs have suffered effects such as trembling, broken limbs, hyperactivity, and inability to walk from the drug. The FDA, however, doesn’t confirm that it is, in fact, from the drug.

If you want to learn more about the current debate over Ractopamine, you can find more information here and here. Watch out for more news on this food safety issue in the coming months.


Angela Bond

Genetically-Engineered Salmon: Why Some Find It a Bit Fishy

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, FDA, Food Safety, Science and Technology | Posted on 04-12-2012

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For all you salmon lovers out there, listen up. Looks like there’s a growing debate right now over salmon, and more specifically, over whether or not this beloved fish should be genetically modified. This type of modification would speed up the salmon-growing process, allowing it to grow at double the speed of traditional salmon. In recent years, the company Aquabounty has been fighting for approval to sell this genetically modified fish but has yet to win the battle with the FDA. What’s interesting is the fact that the FDA, in 2010, announced that this modification is just as safe for the public to consume as regular salmon, yet it has still not approved the practice almost three years later. This leads many to wonder if it is really as safe as the FDA has said.

As with any debate, there are voices to be heard on both sides of this food safety issue. Aquabounty claims that its aim is “to make the U.S. fish farming industry, or aquaculture, more efficient, environmentally friendly and profitable.” It hopes to be a profitable venture for the U.S. because it would vastly reduce the 86 percent of salmon imports and keep the business more “local.” By adding a growth hormone from the Chinook, another type of salmon, the company hopes to reduce the salmon growth time from the traditional three or four years down to two.

Unfortunately for Aquabounty, the FDA’s reluctance to approve the idea has left the company in a bit of a dire circumstance. The funds for the company are set to run out in January 2013, which is just a few short months away. The company CEO, Ron Stotish, stated, “It’s threatening our very survival.”

Those in opposition of these genetic modifications find the idea to be a bit, well, fishy. Don Young of Alaska, of the House of Representatives, stated, “Frankenfish is uncertain and unnecessary.” Several natural food advocates and environmentalists have joined the fight in opposition of this company and its objectives as well, preferring natural to anything artificially modified.

To those who oppose this new practice, Stotish says, “This is about more than Aquabounty and more than salmon . . . And shame on us if we allow this to slip away because of partisan bickering and people who oppose new technology.”

What do you think about this fight to allow genetically-engineered salmon? Do you believe it is safe and healthy for the public to consume? Do you support the idea of increasing the salmon growth time through these methods? Or do you prefer the traditional method of growing salmon?

–Angela Bond


Salmonella Has Claimed Yet Another Precious Fruit: Cherry Tomatoes

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, FDA, Food Recall, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, Salmonella | Posted on 27-11-2012

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Salad staples in my house include carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes, to be exact. But as expected, Salmonella has claimed yet another precious fruit.

On November 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported a recall on Rio Queen Citrus “Karol” cherry tomatoes. Based out of Mission, TX, the FDA reported that 840 cartons may have been contaminated with Salmonella. The cherries were distributed in Texas and South Carolina between November 10th and November 19th and were labeled “01W45.”

Side effects of Salmonella can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. If you’ve eaten any of “Karol’s” questionable produce and are experiencing these symptoms, see a doctor.

–Whitney Nelson


Save the Stress by Doing Thanksgiving Right

Posted by Admin | Posted in FDA, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, For Fun, FYI, In the News, Salmonella, Seasonal | Posted on 16-11-2012

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Thanksgiving Stress

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be a daunting task: shopping, prep, cooking, and, finally, guests judging the centerpiece of most celebratory dinners, the turkey. Though I don’t mean to add to holiday stress, we must privilege food safety just as we do taste. As your turkey thaws, bacteria can multiply, so as you prep the bird, keep a few things in mind.

On thawing: It’s tempting to put a frozen turkey on a plate in the corner and let the room temperature do all the work. We’re busy, after all. But as soon as that bird begins to defrost, it approaches the “danger zone”—between 41 and 135 °F—temperatures where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. As such, use one of these three thawing methods to ensure a safe feast.

  • In the refrigerator: Should you choose to marshal the refrigerator, plan ahead, but not too far ahead. A thawed turkey will last 1 to 2 days.  Keep the temperature below 40 °F and allow 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of meat. To prevent juices from contaminating other food, use a tray or container of some sort.
  • In the microwave oven: Most turkeys come with microwave instructions, so a wise chef will follow them. A wise chef will also cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed, as parts will have already warmed and cooked during microwaving. We really don’t recommend this method though.
  • In cold water: Use a leak-proof bag to prevent cross contamination or a water-logged main course. Allow for 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes or so until the turkey thaws. Like microwaving, a cold-water-thawed turkey must be cooked immediately after.

On stuffing: Where I come from, we cook stuffing in a casserole dish. But advanced cooks and/or purists actually, you know, stuff the turkey. For tasty and safe results, stuff the turkey just before cooking.  Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe temperature, a minimum of 165 °F.  Foodborne bacteria can survive in stuffing that doesn’t reach 165 °F.

On cooking: Set the oven to 325 °F. Place your thawed turkey breast-side up in a shallow cooking pan.  Cooking times will vary, but the most important tool (aside from your baster) is a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing.   Like the stuffing, the meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 °F.

A Happy Thanksgiving is a safe one, folks. Enjoy those closest to you and feed them well.

Stress-free Thanksgiving

Whitney Nelson