App, Websites and Grocers offer Ways to Keep Abreast of Food Recalls

Turns out that the hot dogs I had planned to make for lunch yesterday were recalled but I had no idea. Why do foods get recalled, and how can I be better aware of recalls on foods I’ve purchased? 

Typically, food recalls are a voluntary response from a food supplier or manufacturer when their product has been mislabeled or hazardous, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Food mislabeling – such as listing the wrong ingredients, failing to declare allergens or offering misleading claims about the product – can pose a risk to consumers looking to avoid certain allergens (chemical hazards) or ingredients. Allergen mislabeling is the most common cause of food recalls in the U.S.

Depending on the nature of the food recall, consumers typically will be advised to throw out the affected product or return the item to the store of purchase for a refund.

Foods can also be recalled for containing foreign objects or physical hazards such as metal shavings or plastic pieces from equipment or packaging, the FDA says, or for contamination with microbial pathogens (biological hazards) such as E. coli, Salmonella or Listeria.

If consumers find they have a recalled product in their refrigerator or pantry, they should follow instructions from regulators or the producer regarding its disposition.

One way to keep abreast of food recalls is to sign up for notifications by FDA. You can visit their website at fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm to request notifications of food recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts. The site also lists historical data on those issues.

Another resource that alerts consumers to food recalls is the U.S Department of Agriculture Foodkeeper app. The app, which offers consumers information on how to store food safely and how long certain foods last, was updated this month by USDA to include food safety recall alerts.

Now, each time a user opens the Foodkeeper app, it will check the data feed for updates on food safety issues. You can also set the app to receive food recall alerts as they happen, once a day or weekly. The app, which also offers mobile accessibility, is available for Android and IOS devices. The information can also be accessed online at FoodSafety.gov.

Some grocery stores also offer a service in which they will notify their customers who have loyalty cards with the store, of food recalls. A receipt of previous purchases will be associated with the customer loyalty information so that individuals can receive a notice from an automated messaging service if a food purchase is later recalled.

One of the greatest barriers to a successful recall is food perishability. Depending on the product, consumers may have already eaten the food before learning of the recall. Rapid response systems like those described here help shorten the time between the announcement from the company and the consumer response.

Depending on the nature of the food recall, consumers typically will be advised to throw out the affected product or return the item to the store of purchase for a refund.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

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