Recalls of food and poultry products have increased significantly since the nation’s last major food safety law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2011.
Recent high-profile recalls — from romaine lettuce to eggs to beef — reveals how fundamental flaws in our current food safety system have led to a jump in these recalls since 2013, a new report from the Public Interest Research Groups found.
According to PIRG, overall recalls since 2013 increased 10 percent, but recalls of the most hazardous meat and poultry products rose 83 percent during the same time frame.
A report from the PIRG Education Fund, based on the study, says new technology might have contributed to the increase, but the reports reveals that element is inconsequential.
“Americans should be confident that our food is safe and uncontaminated from dangerous bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella,” it states.
Key findings from this year’s report include:
- An 83 percent increase in meat and poultry recalls that can cause serious health problems: USDA Class 1 recalls “involve a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.” This includes recalls of beef for E. coli, poultry for Salmonella and others.
- Food recalls overall increased by 10 percent between 2013-2018: From crackers to children’s cereal to lettuce to meat, we’ve seen the total number of food recalls increase over the last six years.
- Archaic laws allow meat producers to sell contaminated products: It is currently legal to sell meat that tests positive for dangerous strains of Salmonella. A case study of the recent recall of 12 million pounds of beef sold by JBS could likely have been prevented if it this policy was changed.
- Bacteria-contaminated water used on vegetables and produce: A case study helps demonstrate how irrigation water polluted by fecal matter from a nearby cattle feedlot likely contaminated romaine lettuce with E. coli in the spring of 2018.
The PIRG Education Fund report says it is clear “our food safety defenses need an across-the-board upgrade.”
1. Food production and testing
- Test water used for irrigation or watering of produce for hazardous pathogens.
- Set health-based bacterial load levels for agriculture watering to prevent contamination.
2. Inspection and monitoring
- Require plants to identify most common pathogens associated with meat and poultry products as hazards likely to occur and address them in their safety plans.
- Establish clear enforcement consequences for recurring violations of food safety protections or plans.
- Update food safety standards at facilities every three years.
- Declare antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as an adulterant in meat and poultry.
- Improve traceability throughout the food supply chain through network-based tracking technologies.
- Retailers notify consumers that products they may have in their homes are recalled.
4. Recall effectiveness
- Require disclosure of retailers selling products for all Class I and Class II recalls, establish a timeline for release of that information, and include packaged goods.
- Penalize companies who continue to sell products after a recall.
- Develop programs for retailers to directly notify customers about food recalls.