Food Recalls: What to Do If It Happens to You

You’ve just heard that your favorite hummus or the chicken you picked up for dinner has been recalled, and you don’t know what to do. How are you supposed to know if your food is safe to eat? What other foods have you been buying that might be contaminated? Product recalls don’t have to be scary or confusing with the right tools.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a recall is an action “taken by a firm to remove a product from the market.” Recalls are not specific to just food and beverages. Any number of products including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and automobiles can be recalled due to problems that can harm the consumer or the reputation and credibility of the producer.

A firm recalls a product for several reasons, depending on the severity of the issue. In less serious cases or if the firm notices an issue early, the firm chooses to recall the product. If the FDA notices a possible threat through inspection, it will request the firm recall the compromised product. If the FDA notices a serious threat to the health and safety of the consumer, it will order a firm under statutory authority to recall the product.

Foodborne pathogens such as salmonella and listeria are not the only reasons for product recalls. A firm may recall a product if inedible contaminants such as plastic or foods that are not mentioned on the label contaminate the product. A firm may also recall a product if it is contaminated with common allergens such as peanuts in a typically peanut-free food. Products that are mislabeled, misbranded, or have compromised packaging also warrant recalls.

In the case of a recall, the safest way to avoid any health threat is to throw out the recalled food. However, avoid wasting food by confirming that your specific product is not contaminated. Your product is compromised if its serial number matches the number provided in the recall announcement. Recall announcements will have instructions for those who purchased compromised products and in some cases the manufacturer offers refunds.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to find out if a product has been recalled. Recalls for major products will appear in the news, so you can find updates on online news sources as well as your social media feed. Notices of all reported recalls are collected and featured on the FDA website as well as on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. You can receive updates on the most recent recalls and other FDA announcements by subscribing here or receive alerts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by signing up here.

Photo credit: Adam Wyles

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