Ask the Expert: Why Have There Been So Many Food Recalls?
This year has brought many a food safety scandal. Some have hit close to home—ahem, Cleveland Circle Chipotle and Back Bay Sweetgreen—but far more have taken place on a national stage. Every day, it seems, social media is abuzz with news of the latest food recall. Have there actually been more issues than usual recently, we wondered? We called on Cindy Rice, president of Braintree’s Eastern Food Safety, to clear things up.
Question: Why have there been so many food recalls this year?
Answer: A combination of factors.
The details: We weren’t imagining things. Rice confirms that there have, indeed, been more high-profile recalls lately.
The uptick is largely due to more stringent testing and regulations, Rice explains. “[The FDA and USDA] are doing more and more testing than past years, because of the number of outbreaks that have been reported to the CDC,” she says, adding that many companies also do independent testing. “It’s a sign that a lot is being picked up on that was not being picked up on in the past.”
Rice also mentions the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2011 and is currently being implemented. The law emphasizes prevention rather than reaction, which may give rise to more proactive recalls. It also gives the FDA the power to enforce recalls when necessary, instead of leaving them to the discretion of food companies.
Another factor, Rice says, is the number of exported foods eaten in the United States, many of which come from countries with different food safety requirements. “A single product might have different ingredients that come from different companies and different countries, so that makes it really challenging to control,” she says.
Finally, all of those things are compounded by more frequent press coverage. “The media is picking up on outbreaks and recalls that have never been picked up on before,” Rice says. “There may have been the same number but we never knew about them.”
The bottom line: You’re not crazy if you’ve noticed the spike in recalls. Stay abreast of the latest at foodsafety.gov, and follow the recommendations laid forth there. And while you shouldn’t panic, Rice says a healthy dose of trepidation may not be a bad thing in this case.
“I think a little bit of fear is a good thing,” she says. “It might make [people] pay more attention and take some of these signs seriously, so they can put preventive measures in place at home.”