Why Food Recalls Fail

Sure, food recalls can be scary, but we generally have faith that tainted beef, spinach, and other products will be removed from our shelves and kept from our stomachs. Think again. The Chicago Tribune reports on the logistical jungle gym that develops in a food recall—getting the word out to consumers and grocery stores, whether or not they'll care, whether the news media will spread the word, the voluntary nature of recalls, and broad confusion over how the products will be retrieved. The end result, unfortunately, may be Salmonella or E. coli hiding in the products on our grocery shelves:

In 2009, for instance, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture was involved in 59 recalls in which the amount of food sought and recovered was known, 56 came up short of the amount they identified as potentially tainted or produced at a time when factory controls were lax.

Two of those efforts highlight how far short recalls can fall. Last July a Denver processor announced a recall of more than 460,000 pounds of ground beef tied to a salmonella outbreak but recovered only 119,000 pounds. In October a New York processor announced a recall of 545,000 pounds of ground beef tied to an outbreak of E. coli; it recovered 795 pounds, according to the USDA.

Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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