New report: Meat recalls remain high; produce and processed food recalls drop

Media Contacts
Dylan Robb

Trends point to the need for additional action to keep consumers safe

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA — Contaminated food, from Tyson’s chicken strips containing chunks of metal to E. coli-laden romaine lettuce, posed a serious danger to Americans’ health in 2019. U.S. PIRG Education Fund crunched last year’s numbers for its How Safe Is Our Food? report and found that while recalls for produce and processed food have fallen 34 percent since 2016, recalls for meat and poultry have increased slightly since then — and are up 65 percent since 2013. 

“Consumers shouldn’t have to worry that their next bite might sicken or kill them, especially when food safety agencies leave so many solutions in the pantry,” said U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber. “Our analysis suggests that when commonsense protections are implemented, our food gets safer.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans experience foodborne illness each year. Each recall is an instance when our food safety system failed to prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers. Despite the decline in produce and processed food recalls, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) could be doing more to protect consumers. 

Key findings from this year’s report include:

  • The most hazardous meat and poultry recalls (Class I) have nearly doubled, up 85 percent percent since 2013. This is a slight increase from 2018. Total meat and poultry recalls are up 65 percent since 2013.

  • Recalls for produce, processed food and other food overseen by the FDA decreased 34 percent since new food safety plans for businesses started going into effect in 2016. The most hazardous recalls have dropped 54 percent.

  • Companies reported recovering an average of 16 percent of recalled meat and poultry in completed recalls between 2013-2019. 

  • While the number of poultry recalls was similar to previous years, the 17 million pounds of poultry and egg products recalled last year more than tripled the average of the previous six years.

  • Fifteen and a half million pounds of meat and poultry were recalled for containing metal, plastic or other extraneous material in 2019. That’s 75 percent of the weight of all meat recalls. 

“The food we eat should be free of contamination, from farm to fork.” said PIRG Consumer Watchdog Associate Dylan Robb. “Food safety agencies can — and should — take several actions to make sure our food won’t make us sick, including banning Salmonella in meat, requiring testing for agricultural water, and implementing more aggressive food safety plans.”

Additional policy recommendations can be found in last year’s report

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