How Do Food Recalls Work?

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woman shopping in the meat section of the grocery store

Following last month’s ground beef recall over concerns of E. coli contamination, you may be wondering: how do food recalls work and where does all the food go?

When is a food recall required?

It may come as a surprise that recalls don’t always occur after illness is reported. In fact, there were no related illnesses that caused last month’s beef recall. It was during routine testing that regulators detected a potential contamination.

Companies can issue recalls whenever they please, however, they’re required in specific circumstances. Following the ground beef E. coli discovery, the New Jersey-based manufacturer, Lakeside Refrigerated Services, was required to issue the recall of over 120,000 pounds of beef — about 160 steers worth — because it was now considered “adulterated.”

The term “adulterated food” was written into food safety law in 1938 to refer to food that contains poisons, has incorrect labeling, was prepared in unhygienic conditions and more. When a food product falls under that category, the company must issue a recall.

What is the recall process?

After issuing a recall, the company’s next steps include contacting the press to warn consumers and reaching out to trade partners to get the product off of the shelves.

In the disposal stage, the company must pay for the product to be removed, replaced and shipped back to them. This part is costly, especially in cases like last month’s beef recall where the products were already shipped to stores nationwide.

Not only is this pricey, but the bad publicity damages both the company and the industry. For example, the peanut butter recall of 2009 cost the peanut industry $1 billion in lost production and sales. As a result, most companies today try to protect themselves by purchasing recall insurance. This ensures that they are reimbursed for the recall process, including loss of profit, to avoid potential bankruptcy.

Where does all of the food go?

So, what’s going to happen with those 120,000 pounds of beef? There are several different ways to repurpose recalled food products that don’t involve dumping them in landfills. For meat, in particular, there’s a USDA-approved cooking method to recycle the meat by cooking it at a high temperature to kill off the pathogen. With this process, depending on why the recall occurred, companies can turn their products into pet or animal feed, fertilizer or processed food that’s safe for human consumption.

Are food recalls effective?

Because recalls are so costly and damaging to a company’s reputation, they’re ultimately what influences change in the supply chain. Throughout the past few decades, companies have invested more money into removing pathogens from their products, enforcing proper cleaning of machinery and accurately labeling packages.

While recalls are effective, litigating against companies who put dangerous products on grocery store shelves is also an important part of holding them accountable. In March, firm co-founder Vineet Dubey filed a lawsuit against Kroger for having massive levels of lead in some of their food products.

Last year, Dubey filed similar lawsuits against Trader Joe’s and Gerber as part of the continuous fight for companies to remove items with toxic heavy metals from grocery stores, put into place new quality controls and add warnings to packaging.

If you or someone you know has suffered from food poisoning from a grocery store, restaurant or food service company, contact the skilled Los Angeles personal injury lawyers at Custodio & Dubey LLP. With over 25 years of experience, our lawyers will guide you at every step of the way to help you receive the justice you deserve

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