How U.S. food recalls protect consumers

In the United States, several government agencies work together to ensure food safety through a system many consider to be one of the best in the world.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration work together to protect consumers and act swiftly to recall any product deemed unsafe.

(State Dept./M. Gregory)

Why food recalls matter

In a recall, food producers remove products from the market because there’s reason to believe they may be incorrectly labeled or unsafe to eat.

A recall is voluntary, but sometimes U.S. government agencies request one because there is an outbreak of illness or because a pathogen, foreign material or undeclared allergen is discovered in a product.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for ensuring that domestic and imported meat, poultry and egg products are safe and properly labeled in accordance with federal laws.

The FDA regulates nearly all other foods and food ingredients (except catfish, which falls under the Agriculture Department’s jurisdiction).

Recent food recalls

Recalls protect consumers. In April, Tennessee Brown Bag recalled 2,082 kilograms of beef jerky products because they did not undergo a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture discovered the issue and notified the USDA’s food safety and inspection service, prompting an investigation.

The probe found that the beef jerky didn’t have the USDA’s mark of inspection and was produced in a facility that the department had not inspected. Concerned that people may have bought the beef jerky, the agency advised people to either return the product to the place of purchase or throw it away. (In this case, there were no confirmed reports of adverse reactions by people who ate the beef jerky.)

More recently, the J.M. Smucker Company voluntarily recalled 49 Jif peanut butter products after the FDA traced a salmonella outbreak to a manufacturing facility in Lexington, Kentucky. The agency, along with the CDC and state and local partners, continues to investigate the multistate outbreak. What’s more, 16 companies that further processed the peanut butter by repackaging or using it as an ingredient in new products, have authorized their own recalls.

What steps agencies and companies take

During recalls, the USDA’s food safety and inspection service and the FDA place press releases or public health alerts on their websites. The media widely report these alerts.

The actions food makers take during a recall vary, depending on the type of product and the reason for the recall. Companies often implement new procedures or add employee training.

The FDA ends a recall only after it determines that the product has been removed and either disposed of or corrected, commensurate with the degree of hazard.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service terminates recalls once it finds that the company has made reasonable efforts to retrieve and properly dispose of the product.

“Food safety requires collaboration,” Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response said during a food safety event in 2021. “It’s a shared responsibility, and we’ve all got a stake in this. Therefore, the calls to action on this day go out to governments, food producers, business operators and consumers — all over the world — to do their part to help ensure that the foods that we buy, sell, eat, and serve to our customers, friends and families are safe and wholesome.”