From time to time, you may hear about a food recall on the news or on social media sites. Food can be recalled for a variety of reasons ranging from bacterial contamination to an animal infestation at the processing plant. Any type of food may be recalled by either the company or by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though reports are often frightening, and should be taken seriously, there are some things you should know if a product you have purchased is recalled by the company or a state/federal agency.
- Most food recalls are voluntary on the part of the company. This means that, in the majority of cases, a bacteria or another contaminant has been found at a farm or facility where a particular food is produced or in a random sample of the product. In these cases, there is a possibility that some already shipped product is contaminated and that consumption of the product may make you ill. When these recalls are issued, you will be able to find a list of potentially affected lot numbers (usually a series of letters and numbers found near the expiration date on a given food product; not the bar code) on either the company’s website or on the FDA’s dedicated recall website. Having eaten a recalled product doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get sick even if other people do.
- A mandatory recall can be issued by the Consumer Product Safety Comission or a U.S. District Court. Such recalls are rare.
- Very few food recalls result in toxicological poisonings. Most food prducts are recalled due to potential, or actual, bacterial contamination which leads to a cluster of symptoms commonly known as “food poisoning” (nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea). It’s important to understand, however, that “food poisoning” isn’t really poisoning at all! It’s a bacterial infection contracted when you eat something that has the bacteria on it or when you touch a bacteria contaminated item and then eat without washing your hands thoroughly. Washing produce and cooking all meats to the appropriate temperatures is important in the prevention of food-borne illnesses, as is washing your hands thorougly before eating. If you have eaten a recalled product, there isn’t any prophylactic treatment; all you can do is inform anyone else who ate the product and monitor for symptoms. If you do become ill after eating a recalled product and your symptoms persist for more than twenty-four hours, are accompanied by a fever, or are severe, contact your physician immediately.
- It is also rare for foreign body recalls to cause poisonings. Glass, metal shavings, or plastic pieces that can contaminate products during production can cause injury to the mouth or gastrointestinal tract but they aren’t typically toxic. If you are having symptoms after a possible or actual foreign body ingestion (most commonly: cuts in your mouth, stomach pain, or rectal bleeding) contact your doctor immediately.
- If you become ill and suspect it is related to something you consumed, even if that product isn’t listed on any official recall information sources, it is important to contact the store from which you purchased the product, the company, and, in some cases, your local health department. The FDA also has a reporting tool on their website.
- Refunds or exchanges can be arranged through either the store at which the product was purchased or through the company. Unfortunately, neither the Poison Center nor your local health department nor the FDA will be able to assist with this process.
Your local posion center is available to answer poisoning questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1800-222-1222. Be sure to call from a phone local to your geographical location to reach the proper center.