How Food Recalls Work

Responding to Food Recalls

Truly enormous recalls are difficult to miss, even if you want to. Notices show up on social media and other news outlets almost instantly, complete with specific details regarding how to identify whether you have an affected product. The level of publicity also depends largely on how severe/dangerous the issue is, how widely the product has been distributed and even who it was intended for. For example, formula or other foods intended for babies or children will cause more of a stir, due to the vulnerable state of the audience.

Smart companies typically react swiftly and with authority to lessen the potential for disaster in such situations. In 2015, Beech-Nut Nutrition enacted a voluntary recall of baby food after receiving a report of one oral injury caused by glass fragments in the jar. Although less than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of product were affected (about 768 cases), the company initiated a nationwide alert to parents and retailers who stock the jars [source: ABC News]. In a separate case, the FDA stepped in and warned people with peanut allergies to avoid cumin and products containing the spice during a 2015 scare, due to unintentional contamination [source: HealthDay].

Consumers are encouraged to keep a watchful eye on all types of recalls that can impact health. Fortunately, the government has gotten with the times and offers frequently updated recall databases on, as well as the FDA site. Users can even follow pertinent agencies like FSIS on Twitter, or sign up to receive instant alerts via text or email when a recall is issued, with special consideration to food allergy recalls.

The process for returning affected food is actually pretty easy. Identifying factors, such as batch number or expiration date, are listed in the basic recall information, so it's a cinch to survey your pantry or fridge to locate affected products. If you do have one or more, most manufacturers direct consumers to return them to the store of purchase for a full refund or exchange, whichever you prefer. Definitely pay attention to the instructions on your specific recall, however, to avoid confusion.

Shelley Betz of Kennesaw, Georgia, narrowly avoided the opportunity to return Kraft Macaroni & Cheese products affected by a 2015 metal contamination recall. "When I heard about the recall I almost didn't go check my pantry," says Shelley, who was shocked to discover affected products on her shelves. "I was a bit nervous to take it back to the grocery store, but the exchange process was easy, quick and seamless."

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