Product recalls are common in an economy the size of the United States, but the most disconcerting recalls are the safety-related recalls, such as dangerous baby seats, mobile phones that spontaneously combust, or food that’s been contaminated with pathogens, foreign material, or undeclared allergens.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surveys, tests and inspects the U.S. commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products, both domestic and imported. And so far this year there have been dozens of mandatory or voluntary recalls ranging from thousands of pounds of meat and chicken patties to more than 762,000 Nestlé Pepperoni Hot Pockets.
Food recalls can occur for many reasons. Sometimes, they are the result of investigations into outbreaks of food poisoning, such as one that led to a recall of more than 59,000 pounds of raw breaded stuffed chicken in August. (These restaurant foods are most likely to cause food poisoning.)
Other recalls are initiated by companies that self-report problems, such as one in May involving nearly 4,000 pounds of spaghetti and meat sauce the producer found could have been accidentally contaminated with soy, a known allergen.
Common issues that can trigger a recall include distributing food that contains uninspected meat, food that contains foreign matter like plastic or glass, or food that was exported to the U.S. by foreign companies that are ineligible to do so. (This is the worst seafood to eat.)
In most cases, there are no reports of injury or death associated with a recall. But the potential for sickness and injury exists before, during, and after these recalls. In May, Tyson Foods initiated a massive recall of nearly 8.5 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken amid an investigation into a listeria outbreak that killed at least one person.