Recalled Foods Often Remain On Store Shelves

More and more, it seems that <"">recalled foods are not making their way back to processors and current disclosure measures are not adequately alerting consumers to the dangers lurking on their grocer’s shelves. In more than one case highlighted by the Chicago Tribune, consumers have fallen ill after consuming recalled food that remained far too long on store shelves, placing consumers at unnecessary risk for dangerous, often, deadly food borne pathogens.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was involved in 59 recalls, said the Chicago Tribune. In all cases, the agency knew how much food was involved and how much was recovered; however, most—56 recalls—did not tally up the complete amounts identified as problematic, said the Tribune.

Last year, a recall announced by a processor in Denver for 460,000 pounds of ground beef only turned up 119,000 pounds, leaving over 300,000 pounds of potentially dangerous meat on the market or in consumers’ kitchens, said the Tribune. In that case, the pathogen was Salmonella and the beef was linked to an outbreak at the time. Later that year, another processor—this one in New York—announced a larger ground beef recall of 545,000 pounds linked to an outbreak of E. coli. According to the USDA, said the Tribune, only 795 pounds of the potentially tainted beef was ever recovered.

Recalls are considered voluntary, which could lead stores to leave recalled items on shelves. Also, the federal government publishes recall notices; however, media and those along the food chain are relied upon to spread the word, which often does not occur, said the Tribune. Some stores advise shoppers who have purchased recalled food by notices, even phone calls; others do not. The processes are as diverse as the stores and the products involved.

“The companies take your information for marketing, but they won’t contact you in a recall,” said Donna Rosenbaum of the food safety group Safe Tables Our Priority, or STOP, quoted the Tribune. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s just wrong to market to consumers—to use all that information for profit—but not to then protect their health,” Rosenbaum added, wrote the Tribune.

Worse, according to a USDA spokesman, consumers often ignore recall notices saying, “some consumers may still eat and become ill from a product listed for recall.” As a matter-of-fact, according to a study conducted by a Rutgers University professor, about 12 percent of U.S. consumers ate food they knew was recalled, reported the Tribune.

And, of course, food borne pathogens do not always immediately wreak havoc on the body, sometimes taking a week or more to become evident, which can make tracking the source challenging.

Meanwhile, compounding the problem is the issue of keeping food safe before it ever reaches store shelves and consumers. Last month, we wrote that a report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council stated that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to step up operations to keep the nation’s food supply safe, said The Associated Press (AP). The report faulted the agency’s efficiency, saying it needs to use its limited funds to prevent food borne illness outbreaks. The AP added that the report said the FDA does not have what it takes to protect consumers and has a tendency to be reactive, not preventative, suggesting the agency concentrate on outbreak prevention in the riskiest foods and not case-by-case responses.

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