You might be familiar with stories about food recalls from watching the evening news. It's not unusual to hear about a produce recall in the summer, such as lettuce or tomatoes. Throughout the year, we learn of recalls for other food products such as meat, chicken, and eggs. Any report about food safety should catch your attention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks foodborne illness outbreaks across the United States. It informs consumers and health agencies about salmonella and other foodborne illnesses. Other agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), do the same.
Here, we'll provide an overview of the food recall process. We'll also describe the various agencies involved in the process. This page provides links to government resources and recall updates.
How and Why Are Foods Recalled?
The manufacturer or distributor initiates food recalls in response to credible consumer complaints. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA have the authority to stop the distribution and sale of tainted foods. These agencies can step in, depending on the situation.
A manufacturer may recall a food product if there is reason to believe it may cause illness if consumed. The manufacturer will pull it from retail store shelves and remove it from distribution. The FDA will issue an alert to the public to throw away the product if they have it at home.
A company may decide to recall a food product for any number of reasons, including but not limited to the following:
- Safety concerns of any type
- Mislabeling or misleading claims
- Missing allergen warning
- Improper packaging or storage
While the initial news of the recall certainly doesn't help a company's image, taking swift action protects consumers. It also can help minimize the recall's cost and regain customer trust.
Food Recall Classifications
The FDA breaks product recalls into three categories. The FDA categorizes recalls based on the risks posed by the dangerous food or product. For example, food contaminated with salmonella would be more dangerous than food that causes norovirus.
The three classes of recalls are as follows:
- Class I: Foods in this class have a strong likelihood of causing severe health consequences or even death. Examples of a Class I food recall include beef or salad greens tainted with E. coli.
- Class II: These food products pose a remote possibility of causing an illness. Or the food poses a risk of a temporary or minor illness. This category also covers issues like labels that don't mention dry milk as an ingredient. Dry milk allergens qualify as a Class II recall.
- Class III: This category applies to food products that aren't likely to cause illness but that the company has recalled for other reasons. For example, a bag of flour marked "one pound" but containing only 3/4 of a pound violated FDA standards, but it will not harm anyone.
Most food poisoning lawsuits involve Class I and Class II recalls.
Examples of Food Recalls
Some food recalls make the news. Usually, these involve large quantities of food. Or they're recalls after dozens (or hundreds) of consumers get sick. You don't hear about small or inconsequential recalls. It's also rare to hear about food recalls affecting only a tiny part of the country.
Common subjects of recalls are poultry products, frozen meats, and frozen fruits.
Some of the more widespread and impactful food recalls include:
- The PCA Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak: In 2008 and 2009, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) recalled peanut butter in almost every state due to a salmonella outbreak. Hundreds of people got sick, and some died.
- The Blue Bell Ice Cream Listeria Contamination: This recall occurred in April 2015. Blue Bell Creameries recalled millions of containers of ice cream due to a listeria outbreak in ice cream batches. The outbreak was so bad that the CDC issued a public health alert that warned the public not to buy Blue Bell ice cream.
- The Chipotle E. Coli and Norovirus Outbreaks: The popular restaurant chain Chipotle experienced several E. coli and norovirus outbreaks over the years. For example, in 2015, nearly 100 college students in Boston got sick after eating at a local Chipotle. The outbreak was so bad that the company had to shut down more than 40 locations.
In recent news, food manufacturers and the FDA had to issue recalls for the following:
- Skyline Provisions, Inc. (2023): This Illinois-based company recalled more than 5,600 pounds of raw ground beef due to contamination by foreign objects. Meat products are the subject of many recalls throughout the year.
- Publix (2023): On November 29, 2023, Publix, located in Tampa, Florida, recalled 11 different ground beef products due to plastic contamination. Thankfully, the recall was only for ground beef sold in a particular store on a specific date.
- Houdini, Inc. Gift Baskets (2023): In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the FDA issued a recall for all of the Country Gift Baskets sold by the subsidiary of Houdini, Inc. The cookies said they contained raspberry creme, but it was hazelnut creme. A lot of consumers have a hazelnut allergy. The FDA said the risk was so severe that they had to recall all the baskets immediately.
As you can see, some recalls are very specific. They may limit the recall to a particular store. Recalls can also involve specific lots of food or food sold in a particular region.
Other recalls are more general. You may see a company recall a product due to undeclared allergens. For example, the following companies have issued recalls for entire lines of their products:
- Frito-Lay: Veggie Crisps (2023)
- Nestle USA: Edible chocolate chip cookie dough (2022)
- Mondelez Global, LLC.: Belvita breakfast sandwich for undeclared peanut allergy (2023)
- House of Raeford: Corn dog products (2023)
- Conagra Brands, Inc..: Canned meat and poultry (2023)
- Foster Farms: Fully Cooked Chicken Patties (2022)
- Knorr Sopa soup mix products: Some soup mixes may have contained eggs (2023)
- Ziyad Brothers: Jameed Soup Starter for undeclared milk allergy (2023)
- Revolution Farms, LLC: Salad Kit recalls due to possible listeria monocytogenes contamination (2023)
- Nestle Toll House: Chocolate chip cookie dough bar for wood shavings (2023)
- Real Kosher Ice Cream Brand of Brooklyn: Soft Serve On the Go (2023)
You should also know that it's not uncommon to see pet food manufacturers recall their products as well.
Some grocery stores that report widespread recalls include Whole Foods, Kroger, Trader Joe's, Acme, and ShopRite.
What if a Food Company Doesn't Take Consumer Complaints Seriously?
Rarely would a company not take consumer complaints seriously. Nothing can hurt a company's bottom line more than a tarnished reputation. Companies can resolve minor issues with food products quickly and inexpensively. The manufacturer has no incentive to leave dangerous products on the market.
For more severe issues, the company cannot risk the threat of litigation. Even if it's costly to process the recall, it's in the company's best interests to do so, both in the short term and the long term.
Am I Liable for Eating Recalled Food?
If you continue eating food after learning it is unsafe, it will hurt your legal claim. The manufacturer will argue that you assumed the risk. If you knew (or should have known) the food product was dangerous, why would you eat it?
This notion of contributory fault is common in personal injury law. In most states, if the defendant can prove that a plaintiff was partially responsible for their injuries, the court will limit the plaintiff's damages. Some states will dismiss your lawsuit if you are even 1% at fault.
Seriously Injured From Unsafe Food? Speak to an Attorney
Foodborne illnesses can be severe, causing high medical bills and time away from work. Fortunately, victims of food poisoning can recover compensation by filing a successful personal injury lawsuit against the company responsible.
- Damages can include the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
If you got sick after eating a dangerous or contaminated food product, contact an experienced product liability attorney.
Resources From the USDA
- Current Recalls and Alerts: A constantly updated listing of all active USDA food recalls and alerts
- Report a Problem With Food: Tips and contact information to help you file a complaint if you suspect tainted food
- Annual Recall Summaries: The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides summaries of food recalls for the last several years. You can search this by product type or reason for the recall
Resources From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Recalls, Outbreaks & Emergencies: Recalls of biological products, including food
- Safety Alerts & Advisories: This page provides links to safety alerts, consumer advisories, and other safety information about food and beverages, dietary supplements, and infant formula
- FDA Enforcement Report Index: The FDA publishes this report weekly. It includes recall and field correction actions, safety alerts, and more
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Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.