What To Do When Food's Recalled

No food seems to be safe from food-borne pathogens these days. You may hear about recalls on the nightly news. And when you do, listen up.

One day it’s spinach, the next day it's peanuts. Today, it's pistachios and alfafa sprouts! No food seems to be safe from food-borne pathogens these days. You may hear about food scares and recalls on the news. And when you do, listen up.

Recent Food Safety Scares

Remember last summer when the FDA recommended consumers avoid raw tomatoes because of possible Salmonella contamination? And at the height of tomato season! It turned out that certain types of chili peppers were actually to blame.

Now just this year, peanuts and pistachio nuts hit the recall list, which affected thousands of nut-containing products. We were advised to pitch any potentially contaminated packaged foods (did you?). The FDA also just announced this week that some alfafa sprouts might be tainted with salmonella.

In 2006, testers found deadly E.Coli 0157:H7 bacteria in fresh spinach from a farm in California. This contaminated spinach was distributed far and wide in the U.S. -- so widespread that the FDA recommended consumers avoid spinach altogether and that the fresh stuff be pulled from markets. Then in 2007, another spinach recall went out -- this time due to Salmonella contamination in bagged spinach. That green has had a rough few years.

Where To Turn

Unfortunately, the current systems used to identify and track food safety incidents are less than stellar. They often rely on people getting sick before agencies begin to work backwards to find the cause. However, there are some good resources to keep you informed as the story unfolds.

The most reliable, up-to-date source for outbreak information is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety website. They post daily updates and email alerts on outbreak investigations and offer lists of recalled and possibly contaminated products.

The site has a long list of recalled peanut products -- so if you still think you might have some lingering in the pantry, check it out.

The USDA also has a Food Safety Information Center, where you can sign up for email alerts about recalls and other food safety stories in the news. This way the info comes straight to you -- and for free.

Responsible companies will issue press releases and contact consumers any way available -- these are also reliable sources. Check updates for info on which of products were not associated with an outbreak or recall; companies often add this so consumers know what similar products they can buy. And don't be shy. Call the manufacturer to ask questions. Their number is listed on their website or food packaging.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

With our food production system growing more and more each day, outbreaks or contaminations are bound to happen. And when they do, pay attention. You may think you won't be affected, but is it worth chancing? If you have a food on a recall list, pitch it or contact the manufacturer or your grocery store -- they may offer a make-good (so you don't lose money). Studies show that most consumers ignore or never check for food recalls -- just because others don't, doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Local farms are often safer options, too. Mostly because local produce doesn't have to travel long distances and gets handled less. During both the spinach and tomato outbreaks, I happily turned to my local farm stand (and garden).

To learn more about the different kind of food-borne pathogens, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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