By: Keeba Smith

The number of food recalls in the U.S. quadrupled between 2007 and 2012.  There was a global wide change in policies and regulations after highly publicized cases including a Salmonella outbreak at a peanut factory in Georgia in 2009.  It killed nine people and sickened 714 others.  The factory owners were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy, the first felony convictions for company executives in a food-safety case.

Recently, US food safety officials have recalled frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, and other products because they were related to an investigation of Listeria illnesses.  It seems like every week there is a new recall for a product that can be detrimental to you or your family’s health.  Most people often wonder about the recall process.  Hopefully, this is will help you understand the process and what to do if you have a product that has been recalled.


Companies pull 8,000 products off the shelves each year.  A company can issue a recall for any number of reasons.  However, according to the food safety law in 1938, they are only required to recall in the case of “adulterated” food.  The term “adulterated” refers to food that contains known poisons, was prepared under insanitary conditions, if anything has been omitted or substituted that is written on the label, and other. A food manufacturer or distributor initiates the recall to take food off the market.  In some situations, food recalls are requested by government agencies (USDA or FDA).

Some reasons for recalling food include:

  • Discovery of an organism in a product which may make consumers sick
  • Discovery of a potential allergen in a product
  • Mislabeling or misbranding of food.


A recall occurs when action is taken to remove a food from the market because there is evidence that it is unsafe, adulterated, or mislabeled.  Recalls are classified according to their potential seriousness.  This classification is given to a recall by the government agency responsible for overseeing the recall.

Both FDA and FSIS classify recalls according to this system:

  • Class I- A health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death. (Example:  Food with an undeclared allergen)
  • Class II- A potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food. (Example:  Product containing a foreign material)
  • Class III- A situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences. (Example:  Minor labeling problems)

There are no specific foods that are recalled more than anything else.  It is really depended on the classification and distribution of the product.  In most cases, no illnesses are reported at the time the food is recalled.


Social media has made it easier for consumers to be notified and respond to all food recalls.  The notices show up on social media and news outlets almost instantly, complete with specific details regarding how to identify whether you have an affected product.  The level of publicity depends on how severe or dangerous the issue is, how widely spread the product has been distributed and even who it is intended for.  The government offers frequently updated recall databases on and the FDA site.

Most companies will act swiftly and issue a voluntary recall to lessen the potential for disaster.  In other cases, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture will step in and warn people about potential hazards.


If you realize the latest food recall item is in your pantry or maybe it’s already has been eaten, what should you do?

  • Identify the Product

Because food recalls are very specific, it is possible that you might not have the recalled product after all.  Sometimes certain products produced during a specific time period is recalled.  Check the Recall Announcement posted on  If you don’t have the exact product in the announcement, then your product is not part of the recall.

  • Identify the Reason for the Recall

If you have the product or have already consumed the product, check the reason for the recall.  If the recall is because the product did not identify a certain allergen and your family is not at risk for that allergen, then you don’t need to worry.

If the product is being recalled because it may contain bacteria, then it should be returned.  If the product was consumed in the last few days and was cooked properly then you are not at risk.  As always, stay alert for symptoms of food poisoning, and contact your physician if you feel you may have gotten sick.

  • Return the Product/ Give It to the Health Department

If you still have the recalled product you should return it to the store.  They will refund your money and return it to the manufacturer or destroy it. However, if you have become sick after eating a recalled food item, your local health department may also ask for the item, so it can be tested.


Recalls are very costly for companies because they have to pay for product to be destroyed, replaced, and shipped back to them.  Depending on the reason for the recall, companies can rework their products into pet or animal feed and fertilizer.

There is usually no penalty from the government if no act of willful wrongdoing is found but they are still very expensive.  The cost and bad publicity of recalls are what drive companies to fix the problem in a timely manner.  It is also why 78 percent of manufacturers have recall insurance which reimburses them for some of the costs.


Recalls have saved countless lives from products that could have been harmful.  Whatever the reasons, the recall process benefits the consumers.