Recall Informer

Food Recalls: How the Process Actually Works

  • Food manufacturers and the FDA work together to limit the amount of food recalls. Read on to discover how the recall process works.
  • The FDA regulates about 80% of the food supply in the United States. The other 20% is handled by USDA.
  • Food manufacturers and distributors have mandatory protocols that they must adhere to. They are responsible for reporting their products if necessary. The FDA or FSIS can also issue a recall during one of their inspections.
  • If a recall is issued, one of three classifications will be announced giving all involved further information on how to proceed.

Food recalls aren’t really that uncommon. According to data from the Food and Drug Administration, there were 1,928 food and cosmetic recalls in 2018. Although, this number is significantly less than the 3,609 recalls from 2017.

A lot of recalls don’t make it to the headlines because they’re either caught early in the production phase, or they weren’t a serious threat to the general public. However, all food recalls are public knowledge. Let’s take a quick look at the recall process.

The Agencies Involved

Approximately 80% of the food supply in the US is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This food supply includes domestic and imported goods, as well as pet food.

The other 20%, which consists of meat, chicken and their by-products, is the responsibility of a particular branch of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) referred to as the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

And last but certainly not least, is the food companies and their manufacturing facilities. They are ultimately responsible for what enters and exits its production doors. Food companies are expected to conduct business with the highest level of integrity and ensure that all foods are 100% safe to consume.

How a Recall is Issued

There are several ways in which the FDA and FSIS can be notified of an issue in any particular food supply. In most cases, the food manufacturer or one of its distributors will notice an issue and report it directly to one of the agencies. This is done voluntarily and the process is pretty cut and dry.

On occasion, the FDA or FSIS may discover a potentially harmful substance or issue during a routine inspection. If this occurs, the manufacturer is notified and the recall process begins. If a company fails the testing of its product, a recall can be issued as well.

The recalls that are often spoken about on the news or online, are the ones that occur when food has already been bought and consumed followed up with reports of associated illness. At this point, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CD) is notified right away.

The Classifications of a Recall

There are three levels of classification regarding food recalls. Certain protocols are enacted depending upon which classification it receives.

A Class I recall indicates that there is a health hazard present and that by eating the offending food there is a reasonable chance that harm or death may result.

A Class II recall involves the same situation but the chance of harmful side-effects is only remote and therefore not as serious as a Class I.

Finally, a Class III recall implies that eating the food will not impact the health of a person negatively.

There are many different ways that food can be recalled. It could be a lack of nutrient balance, contamination, a foreign object, or allergens that were not disclosed on the food’s packaging. Thankfully, most food recalls are caught before they enter the homes of families.