How do consumers keep up with the seemingly endless list of poisonous foods and dangerous products that show up on store shelves?
Two or three times most weeks, the Food and Drug Administration warns that something in the vegetable bins, produce displays or coolers in our groceries may be so contaminated with dangerous pathogens that shoppers shouldn’t buy it, nor eat it if they did.
Among the items recalled by the FDA just over the past two weeks: A type of smoked fish and pickled beets likely contaminated with botulism; 28 sizes and flavors of seafood salads and cured salmon cited for being fouled with listeria; cantaloupe, jalapeno and Serrano peppers, alfalfa and clover sprouts spoiled with salmonella. A bubble gum appropriately named “Toxic Waste ” or “Short Circuit” was pulled from the market because of unacceptable levels of lead. Five other products were ordered off store shelves because they contained other undeclared allergens.
Shoppers should care about unsafe food because here’s what these pathogens can do:
- Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes are both organisms which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, severe diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
- Botulism is a potentially fatal form of food poisoning and can cause general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking and swallowing.
- E. coli 0157:H7 can cause severe diarrhea and possible kidney failure. Young children and the elderly are most susceptible to serious complications and even death.
How does the consumer keep up with dangerous products that can sicken or even kill?
Following the mandate of the Food Safety Modernization Act which became law in January, President Obama called for a more consumer-friendly way to track items that have been recalled.
The FDA teamed up with food safety activists including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers Union, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Pew Health Group, and others to get their opinions on how to most effectively communicate recall information to consumers.
This week, the FDA released a new, user-friendly search page for consumers who have any concerns about a recall. It’s an easy-to-read listing that organizes information from news releases on recalls since 2009 by date, product brand name, product description, reason for the recall and the recalling firm. Most of the time there is also a photograph of the label or product.
The FDA’s new recall site also offers information on medications and drugs, animal health products, biologics, vaccines and medical devices.
FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Mike Taylor rightly boasted that the Product Recall Page represents the delivery of one of the first major actions demanded by the food safety act. That new law also gave FDA authority to mandate food recalls under certain circumstances. Before this, recalls were usually done by embarrassing food producers into voluntarily blowing the whistle on their own dangerous products.
If you’re worried about recalls that go beyond FDA’s authority, here’s a sample what other federal agencies have on recall lists this week.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that Jennie-O Turkey Store, a Willmar, Minn. establishment, is recalling approximately 54,960 pounds of frozen, raw turkey burger that may be contaminated with Salmonella.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned Dorel is recalling nearly 800,000 child safety seats for a harness safety issue. Mercedes-Benz is recalling certain models (between 2008-2011) of the 2500 and 3500 Dodge Sprinter vehicles because some seat belts in the vehicle do not meet safety standards. Continental Tire is recalling about 400,000 tires because of tread-belt separation.
The Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators also post on that site.