The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is charged with ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, some fish, and processed egg products. In pursuing that goal, it regularly inspects examples of these items — sometimes responding to consumer complaints and sometimes to information from producers or distributors. The FSIS issues recalls for a variety of reasons.
The recalls go out to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of the affected products, and the information on the recalls and other health alerts is available to the public online at the FSIS site. Consumers are asked to return recalled items to their retailers or discard them, while retailers and distributors return them to the manufacturers.
Foods are often recalled because they are found to include foreign matter (metal fragments, wood, plastic, etc.), or test positive for bacterial contamination — mostly some variety of Salmonella or E. coli. In other cases, foods are recalled because they were not submitted for inspection — an issue particularly with frozen fish imported from Vietnam.
The FSIS recalls are classified by severity/health impact into three classes: Class 3 recalls means are of products that won’t cause adverse health consequences if consumed; Class 2 recalls encompass situations where there is a remote possibility of adverse health consequences; Class 1 is the real danger zone, used for cases where there is a reasonable probability that eating the product will cause serious adverse health consequences or even death. As an example, here are 35 food recalls that have poisoned the most people.
The good news is that Class 1 recalls are relatively rare. In 2018, there were seven recalls in that grouping, as opposed to 97 in Class 3. When 24/7 Tempo assembled this list of the 50 largest FSIS recalls of 2019 (so far) in terms of pounds, only three were associated with any negative health impact — the most serious being associated with apparent Salmonella Dublin contamination of ground beef products sold by the Stater Bros. grocery chain, thought to have sickened 10 people in six states. Nothing this year has come close to being one of the worst food recalls of all time.