We see hundreds of food recalls every year. Many lead to illnesses. Some are quite serious. Some lead to people being hospitalized or even dying.
Yes, the notification system for food recalls needs to get better. Until improvements are made, and maybe even after that happens, consumers should consider what they can do to help protect themselves and their families.
- Stop by the customer service desk of the grocery stores you shop at and ask how they notify customers of recalls.
- Sign up with any grocery store you shop at regularly to be notified by phone, text or email if an item you purchased has been recalled. Chances are high that the store will find out about a recall before government regulators will issue any announcements. Check the email or phone number the grocery store has for messages at least once a day.
- Consider shopping only at stores with a good recall notification policy, especially if you buy many products that are frequently recalled, such as produce, including lettuce and other vegetables, or if someone in your home has severe food allergies.
- If you empty bags of onions or apples or flour into another container, keep the package or a photo of it, so you can identify whether you’re affected by any recall.
- Get the free Foodkeeper app and allow recall notifications to be pushed to your phone. The latest recalls are also listed on the website, https://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls-and-outbreaks. The service was developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute.
- Sign up for recall alerts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you have a Twitter account, follow the agencies’ Twitter accounts: @FDArecalls and @USDAFoodSafety. Getting real-time alerts is especially important if there are people with severe allergies, or kids, pregnant women, elderly folks or people with compromised immune systems in the home.
- If you don’t want to sign up for all food recalls, but perhaps just those involving salmonella, E. coli or listeria, or certain undeclared allergens (like peanuts or wheat), then set up Google news alerts with those keywords to be delivered to your email daily or in real time.
- Remember that harmful bacteria on or in food often can be killed by cooking it thoroughly. But you still shouldn’t use recalled food just because you’re cooking it. Also, rinsing produce can help remove pesticide residue and some germs, but it won’t kill bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli.
- Pay attention to some type of national news, whether it’s a TV broadcast, a newspaper, an email summary of the day’s headlines.
Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers' health, safety and financial security. Prior to her current role, she worked as a journalist and columnist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio's largest daily newspaper. She is the recipient of dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, Best Business Writer in Ohio, and National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Among the accomplishments she’s most proud of is receiving a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected at least 15 million customers nationwide. Her work caused Verizon to reach an $80 million settlement with the FCC, the largest ever imposed at that time. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons and a dog. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.