Feeling fearful in the wake of yet another food recall? Find out here how to handle it with ease.
Have you ever had your food recalled? Locating the dreaded lot number or best by date on your package can feel frustrating, especially if you’ve been eating that food item a lot lately. If you’ve ever wondered how best to handle a food recall, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on for the 3-step plan to make food recalls less scary, so you can keep yourself and your family safe from foodborne illness and other health threats.
Why Food Recalls Should Be Taken Seriously
Products can be recalled for many reasons, ranging from undeclared allergens to potential contaminants like contagious viruses. If you don’t have allergies, this may not seem like a big deal.
However, recalled foods have been known to cause injury and illness. This is especially true in vulnerable populations, such as chronically ill individuals or pregnant women. In some cases, “foreign objects” like broken glass can be a threat to anyone, regardless of life stage or health status.
As a rule of thumb, take food recalls seriously. Remember, recall information will be specific, and you will often be provided with specific instructions to follow should you have the food in question. Recalled food is considered NOT safe for use.
How Will I Hear About a Recall?
The Food and Drug Administration has a Recall, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts page that can help keep you updated on the latest incidents. You can filter your search by product type, and also see exactly why a product was recalled.
Major news outlets typically help to spread the word, so a basic Google search (i.e. “frozen fruit hep A recall”) may provide you with some useful information. Two additional great government resources with information about recalls are Food Recalls and Alerts and Recalls and Outbreaks.
Often, a food company or retailer will reach out to you via email. Thanks to living in a digital age, many stores keep electronic records of what you’ve been purchasing. If you’ve purchased a product that might be affected, be sure to check your channels of communication.
Alternatively, you can take a picture of your product or the recalled product itself to the store you bought it from to ask questions. A customer service representative will likely be able to address recall concerns and may be able to answer your questions. While this may seem inconvenient, many times the store will offer a full or partial refund or initiate a return, which may make it worth the extra effort for you.
Large grocery store chains like Walmart may also have a product recall page on their website. This can be helpful if you tend to shop at one or two of the same stores for your food.
A 3-Step Safety Plan
Now that you understand the severity of food recalls and the method in which you may be informed, what to do next?
Step 1: Dispose & Declare
As mentioned above, the details of a food recall will likely be specific. Although it’s easy to panic and feel like you need to toss all your food in that food group, it’s important to locate your recalled food by the company name, lot number, and/or best by date. If you need help with this step, a dietitian, nutrition expert, or grocery store representative will likely be able to assist you in locating this information.
As a side note, becoming familiar with this type of information on a food package is a great skill to have! It can help you better protect your food quality, and empower you when the next food recall comes along.
Still feeling fearful even though you know your food wasn’t included in the recall? When in doubt, dispose. If you’re going to be wary when using the product, it isn’t worth the mental stress, and you can often easily avoid a single food for a few weeks. Basically, it may make sense for you to take a “better safe than sorry” approach.
Plus, some retailers take longer than others to contact their consumers about a potential threat. This means, you may be ahead of the curve when it comes to tossing the food in question. Don’t throw out your whole fridge, but know that it’s okay to follow your intuition when it comes to throwing out suspicious food.
Speaking of being on the early side of the situation, if you discover an illness or injury related to food, you can report it at FoodSafety.gov. If you know friends or family that also regularly consume this item, it may be worth sharing with them. For example, if your kid’s playgroup often shares snacks that have just been recalled, posting in the parent’s Facebook group you’re a part of may help get the word out. It’s unlikely people will be annoyed when you’re reaching out about their safety.
Step 2: Adjust Your Menu (or Eating Pattern) as Needed
If a food has been recalled that you utilize a lot, it’s important to adjust your menu for the next few weeks (or longer). Depending on the severity of an outbreak or contamination, it may take weeks or months for a situation to resolve. It may also be difficult to locate a certain “safe” product, especially if it becomes highly demanded.
However, there’s no need to worry! For most recipes, small adjustments can be made without compromising on taste.
It’s worth mentioning that some pre-packaged or processed foods are more prone to recalls than others. This makes sense, since more preparation is done before bringing them to the store, introducing more settings for food to come in contact with chemicals or health threats.
For example, salad kits and smoothie blends are more common members of a recall list than the raw ingredients used to make them. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid salad kits completely (especially if that’s the only way you get your greens), but it may be worth being more mindful of the risk these products carry.
Depending on your health status or the health of a loved one, you may choose to create your own items (like salad or smoothie kits) instead of opting for pre-made packages. While this does require an investment of time, some individuals and families find a peace of mind that can’t be purchased.
Step 3: Be Aware
If you’ve already consumed most of an item that has been recalled, try your best to remain calm. Remember that what you’re hearing about on the news are likely the most serious situations, such as hospitalizations or deaths. While not always the case, these occurrences are more likely to happen in people with pre-existing conditions. In other words, their bodies weren’t necessarily in tip–top shape before they ate the recalled food.
Unfortunately, you can’t undo the action of eating recalled food. Luckily, you can move forward with awareness. You can take actions to protect yourself, and your “next steps” largely depend on the details of the recall.
For example, if you are allergic to a certain food, carrying around an EpiPen (and a backup) at all times can help protect you from a recall for the reason of an undeclared allergen. If you’ve eaten a food that was recalled because of a bacteria or virus, you can familiarize yourself with symptoms so you can more quickly recognize a potential illness.
In the case of ingested contaminants like glass shards or metal, you can look out for pain or symptoms. You can also contact your personal healthcare provider to request blood tests or scans, just to be sure.
Essentially, knowledge is power! Understanding the potential harmful result of eating a recalled food can help you look out for symptoms in yourself or others. Don’t forget to carefully inspect (and clean) surfaces or equipment that may have come in contact with contaminated food, such as counters, refrigerator shelves, or cutting boards.
A Final Word on Food Recalls
As scary as it seems, food recalls are rather specific. Knowing how to locate a lot number or other label information can help protect you (and your loved ones) against contaminants or other health threats. In any case, it’s important to be aware of potential next steps, follow your intuition, and reach out to a personal healthcare provider for immediate attention if illness or injury occurs.