When there is a reason to believe a food product may cause illness in consumers, that product (either the entire stock or just a particular batch) may recalled, or pulled from the shelves. Food recalls typically are initiated by the manufacturer or distributor in response to credible complaints, but also may be requested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Anything resulting in illness or which may be misleading to consumers can trigger a recall. While the initial news of the recall certainly doesn't help the company's image, taking swift action not only protects consumers but also can help minimize the cost of the recall and work toward regaining customers' trust. The FDA and the USDA both have the authority to stop distribution and sale of tainted foods, but so far have not had to do so.
A company may decide to recall a food product for any number of reasons, including but not limited to:
- Safety concerns of any type
- Missing allergen warning
- Improperly packaged or stored
This article provides an overview of food recalls, with links to government resources and recall updates. See FindLaw's Dangerous Foods section for more information. Addionally, you can find more details at the federal FoodSafety.gov portal.
Food Recall Classifications
- Class I - Strong likelihood that eating a given food product would cause serious health consequences or even death; for example, beef tainted with E. coli or other dangerous organisms.
- Class II - A given food product poses a remote possibility to cause illness, or the illness is temporary and not serious; for example, the label fails to mention the presence of dry milk (a Class II allergen).
- Class III - Eating the given food product likely will not cause illness; for example, a bag of flour marked "1 Pound" actually contains 3/4 of a pound.
Resources from the USDA
- Current Recalls and Alerts - Constantly updated listing of all active USDA food recalls and alerts.
- Report a Problem with Food - Tips and contact information to help you file a complaint if you suspect tainted food.
- Annual Recall Summaries - Summaries of food recalls for the past eight years; may be searched by the product type or the reason for the recall.
Resources from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) Recalls/Withdrawals - Recalls for biological products, including blood, vaccines, therapeutics and related drugs and devices.
- Dietary Supplements: Warnings and Safety Information - Provides alerts and additional safety information.
- FDA Enforcement Report Index - Published weekly. Includes recall and field correction actions, medical device notification or safety alerts, and more.
- Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience Database (MAUDE) - Information on medical devices which may have malfunctioned or caused a death or serious injury.
- Safety Alerts, Public Health Advisories, and Notices - From the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Covers medical devices.
- Special Nutritional Adverse Event Monitoring System - Reports illnesses or injuries associated with the use of a special nutritional product; i.e., dietary supplements, infant formulas, and medical foods.
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System - Reports on adverse events following immunization.