By: Jory Lange
Food gets recalled every day. It seems like we’re always hearing a news story about the latest recall of some packaged food product or reading the 50th chain cycle article of the latest issue with baby food.
That all becomes noise. Many people begin to block the warnings out.
Until you come across a recall notice of a food that is sitting in your own refrigerator, that you ate this morning. Anxiety sets in. What do you do?
The first thing to do is not panic. Recalls can sometimes be overly inclusive, meaning that sometimes not all items subject to a recall are contaminated. Before you begin to worry, it’s a good idea to find out some information first.
Here are some simple things you can do to find out if this recall is likely a problem for you or your family:
- Read the recall notice.The Food and Drug Administration posts its recall notices online for everyone to access. They are the first line of communication for the recall listing.
Is the food subject to the recall actually the food you ate? Is it the same brand? The same package? Does it have the same lot numbers? Same “sell by” dates?
It may surprise you to find out that the food item you ate or have at home is a different brand than the one in the recall.
- Find out if the reason for the recall is an issue for you.Food gets recalled for many reasons – from food-borne illnesses to allergies to mislabeled packaging. Once you find out the reason for the recall, then you can decide if there is indeed a concern.
For example: Betsy’s Butter Rolls are recalled due to the presence of peanuts in them that was not previously on the package.
If you or someone in your family has a peanut allergy, this could be a big problem. However, if peanuts do not affect you in any way, odds are this recall is not that big of an issue for you. You can still eat the food without becoming sick.
- If the recall is because of contamination, see if you are sick.Recalls are often due to food becoming contaminated with dangerous pathogens, like E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, or Listeria. Recalls are sometimes initiated after a product has been on the shelves for a long time. You may have eaten a recalled product and not have become sick.
For example: Turkey from your local grocery store was recalled for potential Salmonella contamination. You ate that brand of turkey a week ago. As Salmonella infections typically show symptoms between 6 hours to three days, odds are you either: (1) did not eat the infected turkey; or (2) you simply did not become sick with Salmonellosis.
- Do not eat the recalled items – if they are an issue for you.If a recall is because of contamination of a dangerous pathogen or poses any other threatening issue, do not eat it. If you have eaten a contaminated food item, and are concerned you may become sick, you should:
a. Take a picture of the food item and its packaging. Make sure to include the lot numbers.
b. Keep the receipt of purchase of the food item.
c. If you plan on keeping the food item, put it in a sealed bag (like a zip lock) and tape it shut. Double packing may be a good idea too, to ensure the product does not cross contaminate your other surfaces. Label the food, so you know not to eat it, too!
d. If you become sick, seek medical attention.
e. When you see your doctor, make sure to ask that they perform the proper tests to determine what’s causing your illness. If food poisoning is involved, testing will often involve giving a stool test. A stool test is often the only way to determine what type of pathogen (e.g., E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, or Listeria) is making you sick. Knowing which pathogen made you sick is important because: (1) then you can get the right treatment; and (2) then you know which food to stop eating so that you don’t get sick again.
- Stay informed.The CDC, FDA, and other websites keep up-to-date with recalls and their effects on public health. By staying informed, you can make the right decisions to protect your family on your terms.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Make Food Safe for their insight into personal injuries related to food.