Navigating which foods to buy at the grocery store can be a real hassle, especially when you're already trying to stick to a healthy diet and trying to avoid the latest item in recall. The Food and Drug Administration may recall grocery items for a variety of reasons, including bacteria contamination (listeria, salmonella and E. coli) or traces of plastic or metal in the product. Sometimes companies will voluntarily pull larger samples of products even if there's a suspected contained contamination. But while recalls happen for any number of different foods, have you ever noticed that some foods tend to cause outbreaks more than others?
Recalls are nothing new, but it is remarkable that basic products like milk, chicken and nuts are among top foods recalled from grocery stores in modern times. Yet people don't stop buying them. These are considered staple food items, at least in the US, that have been purchased over and over for decades. Unlike some of the shocking stories you hear on the news about people finding odd things in their food, many recalls are conducted because they have the potential to contain untraceable problems. In other words, you wouldn't necessarily know that the flour you just bought was contaminated with E. coli.
Here are the most commonly recalled foods found in your local grocery store that will either make you want to stick to farmers' markets or will that you'll just keeping buying anyway.
Food recalls aren't just limited to the food humans eat; pet food is sometimes recalled for salmonella contamination or high sodium content. The most notorious outbreak was in 2007 when pet food containing a mix of melamine and cyanuric acid caused thousands of dogs and cats to fall ill or die from kidney failure. In response, US congress passed the Human and Pet Food Safety Act to provide better guidelines to consumers.
Beef companies have had numerous issues with E. coli breakouts over the years. This is because E. coli bacteria can be found residing in the stomachs of cattle, and the nature of ground beef in particular makes it difficult to fully cook all the way through, causing potential E. coli to sicken you.
While frozen fruits and veggies may seem safe if only because they're supposedly preserved from bacteria, there have been multiple cases of recalls. CRF Frozen Foods had to recall their products after an outbreak of listeria, as did the National Frozen Food Corp. One food professor theorizes that in such cases, listeria may be residing in the processing plants. As always, the bacteria can be killed if cooked correctly. If you like to eat raw, try to purchase organic or non-pesticide foods.
The most common cause of food recalls is undeclared allergens. The FDA includes milk on its list of top eight allergen offenders that pose risk for contamination without proper lab testing and milk is the top offender. Milk and milk powder has been present in multiple meat products that have been recalled over the years. Additionally, milk itself is sometimes recalled for being spoiled before the sell-by date or the presence of bacteria like E. coli.
In a notorious global case of milk recalls, China even executed two milk sellers in 2009 after their tainted powdered milk products made an estimated 30,000 children sick. But it didn't seem to deter US producers: there have been hundreds of different milk recalls Stateside since then.