Is it a matter of perception or are more products being recalled nowadays?
It seems that monthly, if not sometimes weekly, some sort of fruit, vegetable or meat product is being recalled. Case in point: between Jan. 4 and 16, the USDA issued three recalls, including one for beef products containing possible foreign matter, a second for meat and poultry products produced without benefit of inspection and a third for chicken sausage products that were misbranded and posing a potential for allergic reactions.
The USDA labeled the first and third alerts as low health risks and the second as a high health risk.
Which brings us to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the entity within the USDA that regulates meat, poultry and egg products, as the Food Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all other food, i.e., fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
It turns out that the perception is not far from reality when it comes to at least the meat product recalls. The FSIS has indeed stepped up enforcement in recent years, in addition to better training its personnel to detect contaminants and communicating the information to the public timelier.
“The FSIS has implemented new measures to help us catch products that could endanger public health, which leads to more recalls,” says a USDA spokesperson. “FSIS personnel are better trained and equipped than ever. With the help of tools such as the Public Health Information System, the Automated Commercial Environment Database and the Consumer Complaint Monitoring System, FSIS is more effective at aggressively identifying and removing potentially dangerous products from commerce.”
Katherine Scheidt is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, FSIS/USDA, in Washington D.C. Scheidt communicated with Greene Publishing via email and phone on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Scheidt also provided a link to a USDA website containing data on the number of meat recalls between 2005 and 2014, the types of meat recalled, the health risks of the recalled products and the reasons for the recalls.
“The data for 2015 is still unavailable,” said Scheidt. “It will likely be posted in the coming months. But I can tell you that there were 150 recalls in 2015, the highest number since 2005.”
She pointed out two trends borne out by the data. The first was an increase in the number of recalls related to allergens. The second, she said, was a decrease in the number of recalls related to a pathogen found in ground beef.
Scheidt noted that in order to protect the 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies “the FSIS has increased its emphasis on ensuring that all allergens are listed on the final product label.”
“FSIS inspectors have been increasingly verifying product labels and recalling product with undeclared allergens,” said Scheidt, noting a particular emphasis on the verification of the eight most common food allergens.
“A 2015 directive ensures that FSIS personnel conduct ongoing, monthly verification to determine whether establishments are accurately controlling and labeling the ‘Big Eight’ allergens,” said Scheidt, citing the recall of 15 products in 2015 because they didn’t list on their labels peanuts as an ingredient.
She said the increasing number of recalls was creating an incentive for the industry to identify allergen-related issues before their products underwent inspection.
As for the lower number of recalls related to Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and the consequent decrease in incidences of Shiga toxin-producing infections (the second trend), she attributed it to several possible factors related to food safety efforts.
“In a 2002 Federal Register notice, FSIS deemed O157 a ‘hazard reasonably likely to occur in (a facility’s) production process and that had to be addressed in its plan,” said Scheidt. “In 2011, FSIS implemented a ‘test and hold’ policy of meat and poultry products. As the number of recalls suggests, meat and poultry products have been prevented from reaching consumers until inspectors have had the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate test results. This approach has helped FSIS enhance the protection of the food supply, reduce recalls and ensure that all consumers are getting the safest food possible.”
The FSIS assigns three classifications to recalled products. Class I recall involves a health hazard with a reasonable probability of causing health problems or death. Class II recall involves a potential health hazard with a remote probability of adverse health consequences and Class III involves a situation in which consuming the food won’t cause adverse health consequences.
The FSIS data indicates the upward trend in the recall of meat product during the last nine years.
In 2005, the agency recalled 53 products totaling 6,446,231 lbs., 48 of them in Class I, four in Class II and one in Class III.
In 2006, the agency recalled 34 products totaling 5,947,933 lbs., 26 of them in Class I, six in Class II and two in Class III.
In 2007, the agency recalled 58 products totaling 143,063,822 lbs., 50 of them in Class I, seven in Class II and one in Class III.
In 2008, the agency recalled 54 products, totaling 154,726,663 lbs., 42 of them in Class II and 12 in Class II.
In 2009, the agency recalled 69 products, totaling 9,488,664 lbs., 44 of them in Class I, 21 in Class II and four in Class III.
In 2010, the agency recalled 70 products totaling 34,121,902 lbs., 43 if them in Class I, 23 in Class II and four in Class III.
In 2011, the agency recalled 103 products totaling 39,702,319 lbs, 62 of them in Class I, 29 in Class II and 12 in Class III.
In 2012, the agency recalled 82 products totaling 3,475,115 lbs., 46 of them in Class I, 24 in Class II and 12 in Class III.
In 2013, the agency recalled 75 products totaling 13,096,784 lbs., 53 of them in Class 1. 17 in Class II and five in Class III.
In 2014, the agency recalled 94 products totaling 18,675,102 lbs., 63 of them Class 1, 23 Class II and eight Class III.
For more data on the recalls, visit http://www.fsis.usda.gov/-wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-ale-rts/recall-summaries/r-ecall-summaries-2014.