Not every suspected issue winds up requiring a large-scale recall. "Once the recall management technical analysis staff is notified of a potential recall we request additional information," Griffin explains, of the process of determining whether such measures are necessary. "We need to know why the problem occurred. Then we have to apply critical thinking and make an analysis of the information." Once the company and necessary agencies understand the situation, they activate and classify the recall, if needed.
Recalls can be initiated in several ways. Sometimes, inspection of a facility uncovers fodder for recall, or issues are discovered through random FSIS or FDA testing/sampling. When illness(s) appear to be caused by a particular product, state health departments typically enlist the help of federal agencies to investigate. As already mentioned, most recalls are actually begun by the manufacturing company, which has a vested interest in protecting consumers, as well as minimizing cost and damage.
The FDA oversees recalls involving all food products except for poultry, meat and certain egg products, which are handled by FSIS (a division of the USDA). Once the need for a recall has been brought to their attention by the manufacturer/supplier/distributor, the agency (typically a local or district arm) is tasked with overseeing the company's efforts to correct the issue. "They work with the recalling firm as far as implementation of the recall," says Griffin. "Once the establishment has tried to get all of the product that they can back out of commerce, they contact the district office and verify that it has been destroyed or is no longer available." The appropriate agency then reviews the data and other information, determines that the threat has been mitigated and closes out the situation. Ideally, the affected company will then take steps to ensure that the error is not repeated.