What a Food Safety Expert Wants You to Know About All the Food Recalls

Including how to stay up-to-date on the latest recalled products.

Updated on September 26, 2023

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apos tophy/Getty Images

In 2022, there were several high-profile companies, including Jif, Costco and Target, recalling contaminated food. In 2022, the most common foods recalled were fish, dried fruit and mushrooms due to Listeria concerns, and peanut butter due to salmonella contamination. Most recently, Gold Medal recalled some of its flour, also because of salmonella contamination.

In 2020, there were a total of 535 recalls. From January 1, 2021 through June 1, 2022, there were 492 recalls. The decrease in 2020 is likely due to the impact of the pandemic.

With so many mass recalls on packaged goods, is this the new norm? Knowing where to find the information about the latest recalls and what to do when you find a recalled item in your home is imperative in order to keep everyone safe, and minimize the possibility of a foodborne illness. Here’s what a registered dietitian and food safety expert wants you to know.

How We Think About Food Safety

According to the 2021 International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2021 Food and Health Survey, seven in 10 people in the U.S. are confident, and one in six are very confident, in the safety of the food supply. Although most people feel protected, the top food safety concern is foodborne illness from bacteria. It remained a top concern in the IFIC’s 2022 survey.

What the Data Shows About Food Recalls

Approximately one in six Americas get sick from a foodborne illness annually.

The Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) provides an annual report on food recalls. In 2022, there were 45 recalls on 1,769,556 pounds of food, compared to 2021 where there were 47 recalls on 15,501,273 pounds of food. Last year’s numbers were lower than the previous year’s; however check out the story if you backtrack a few years:

  • In 2020: 31 recalls; 1,461,019 pounds of food recalled
  • In 2019: 129 recalls; 20,427,455 pounds of food recalled
  • In 2018: 125 recalls; 20,552,911 pounds of food recalled
  • In 2017: 131 recalls; 20,880,574 pounds of food recalled
  • In 2016: 122 recalls; 58,140,787 pounds of food recalled

Over the past three years (2020 to 2022), food recalls have actually significantly dropped. We will see if this trend continues as the pandemic has certainly led to changes in food manufacturing due to shortages of supplies and other important factors within the food chain.

Who Recalls Food and Why?

There are a handful of organizations that oversee food recalls. The FSIS, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the safety of the meat, poultry and some egg products which is approximately 20 percent of the U.S. food supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the rest of the food supply, including domestic and imported foods. When there is a foodborne illness, the state departments contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who then contacts the FDA or FSIS. Plus, food manufacturers work with these organizations in order to issue food recalls for their own products.

When foods get recalled, they tend to fit into one of three categories: pathogen contamination (like Salmonella), physical contamination (like glass or metal) or misbranding (when an undeclared allergen is in a food). Recalls are typically done voluntarily by the manufacturer. If a company needs to issue a recall, the company needs to let the FDA or FSIS know as soon as possible, and provide a plan of action on how it plans on handling the recall, a press release and who is affected. The manufacturer is responsible for removing the product from the market as soon as the issue has been found. The FDA or FSIS rarely issues a recall, but it has happened when the source of the contamination was still undetermined.

How to Get the Best Information About Recalls

To stay updated about recalls, the FDA offers a recall subscription service where you can be notified of any recalls (including food recalls) on a daily or weekly basis. You can also check the USDA website where they post recalls as well.

If you think you have a recalled product in your kitchen, read the recall notice carefully and follow product-specific instructions. Oftentimes you can return the recalled product to the store where it was purchased for a full refund. If not, you should dispose of the product properly and if it is contaminated, wrap it securely before putting it in the garbage. Never give the recalled product to others like a food bank or pets.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian.

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