By: Candess Zona-Mendola

In March of 2016, two large canned tuna manufacturers, Bumble Bee Foods, LLC and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC (Chicken of the Sea), issued major voluntary recalls this week – citing faulty manufacturing as a cause for the potential presence of dangerous bacteria. Over a Hundred thousand of cans of Chunk Light Tuna have been recalled to date.

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Similar Recalls are Not Even a Year Old

These recalls come less than 6 months after the Skipanon brand canned tuna recall due to Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, in October of 2015[1]. The specifics of this earlier recall stemmed from a similar concern – potentially under-processed products discovered during routine inspection. The Skipanon recall lead to additional recalls, as seen in the current events at hand, of other products and brands processed by Skipanon.[2]

The Recall Itself

On its website, Bumble Bee outright confesses “deviations [related to the] commercial sterilization process and could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens, which could lead to life-threatening illness if consumed.”[3] However, they have been quick to point the finger of blame on its third-party processor, Tri-Union, by stating that the deviation “occurred in a co-pack facility not owned or operated by Bumble Bee.”(see footnote 1)

Tri-Union followed suit with Bumble Bee, but has openly said the issue was discovered during a routine inspection. On its website, Shue Wing Chan, president of Tri-Union, stated, “The health and safety of our consumers is our number one priority. As soon as we discovered the issue, we took immediate steps to initiate this voluntary recall, alerting our retail customers that received the product and instructing them to remove it from store shelves.”[4] Chicken of the Sea reportedly told, “The Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee products in question were produced in the Chicken of the Sea plant in Lyons, Georgia as part of a co-packing agreement between the two companies. Agreements such as this are common among manufacturers. That said, at Chicken of the Sea we hold ourselves to the highest standards, and the health and safety of consumers is of utmost importance. To that end, we moved swiftly as soon as an issue was discovered to have products removed from store shelves. The recall was issued as a precautionary measure.”[5]

The FDA has followed suit by reporting that the possible under-processing of the tuna cans was found after the third-party’s routine quality audit.[6] What potentially dangerous bacteria was found, has not yet been released.

Within a week or so, Texas-based grocery retailer H-E-B posted a related notice to its website on March 18, 2016 recalling the Hill County Fare branded Chunk Light Tuna – as sold in individual cans. Faculty manufacturing was also cited as the reason for the cautionary recall.[7]

All companies maintain that no illnesses have been reported. The FDA has confirmed this statement at this current time. It does not yet appear that anyone has come forward claiming illness.

Others are Not Quick to Consider This a Cautionary Tale

Despite the apparent precautions and open media output by these tuna companies, some groups are not so swayed by this recall being solely based on facility processing deviations.

Greenpeace has openly spoken that the recalls are not large-scale enough. They claim human rights issues and poor working conditions could be to blame. These arguments could expand to concerns over sanitary environments to catch and store potential tuna for consumption.  Greenpeace seeks to put pressure on the big tuna companies to overhaul their practices and work on sustaining the world’s oceans.[8] According to Greenpeace’s website, “Over 80 percent of the tuna sold in the US comes from unsustainable, destructive sources.”[9]

What is Included in the Recalls?

If you think you may have purchased compromised tuna, below is a round-up of the recalled products, to date:

  • Chicken of the Sea Brand 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in oil in single cans sold between Feb. 10, 2016 and March 16, 2016, with a UPC code of 0 4800000195 5 and the Best By date is 2/10/19.
  • Chicken of the Sea Brand 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in water sold in single cans between Feb. 18, 2016 and March 16, 2016 with a UPC code of 0 4800000245 7 and Best By dates of 2/18/19, 2/22/19, 2/23/19, 2/25/19, 3/2/19, and 3/3/19.
  • Bumble Bee Brand 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in water bearing UPC code 8660000020 with Best By dates of 02/10/2019, 02/16/2019, 02/17/2019, 02/18/2019,
  • 02/22/2019, 02/23/2019, and 02/25/2019.
  • Bumble Bee Brand 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in oil bearing UPC code 8660000021 with a Best By date of 2/23/2019.
  • Bumble Bee Brand (4 pack) 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in water bearing the UPC code 8660000736 with Best By dates of 02/9/2019, 02/10/2019, 02/22/2019, and 02/29/2019.
  • Hill Country Fare Brand Chunk Light Tuna in Oil bearing the UPC code 0 4122065335 5, product lot code: 6O9FZ SCEES, and with a Best By date of 2/9/19.

The FDA advises that, if your product matches any of the specifications noted above, immediately throw it away. This should be done regardless of whether the product appears spoiled or smells. It is best to use the mantra “When in doubt, throw it out!” For those fiscally concerned, most retailers who sold the affected tuna products are offering refunds for the products included in the above-mentioned lots.

If you believe you are ill due to ingestion of potentially compromised tuna, seek immediate medical attention and to contact your local health department.

Potential Illnesses and Long-Term Effects

There are several illnesses that can result from the dangerous bacteria potentially contained in ill-prepared and processed tuna cans. One such serious illness is botulism. Although botulism is rare, it could be lethal if not immediately treated. Even a small bit of food containing botulism bacteria can yield devastating symptoms – including weakness, vision problems, breathing issues, dry mouth, slurred speech, and issues swallowing. Long-term effects of food poisoning due to ill-prepared tuna could include respiratory problems, nervous system issues, paralysis, and even death.

The FDA and CDC have not come out with a formal notification that the current recall of tuna could be related to botulism. However, multiple agencies, including the FDA, CDC, and even HEB, have warned that the ill-processed tuna cans could lead to “potential[lly] life-threatening illness” if ingested.