We hear about them so often these days–recalls of all kinds of products, from foods, to medications, to kids toys–that "recall" has become a working concept in everybody’s vocabulary.  But what is a recall?  Who has the legal obligation to announce them?  And what legal ramifications are there ot being involved in one?  

First, despite not having the legal authority to actually recall products, the FDA and USDA are frequently involved.  In fact, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (the agency arm responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and eggs) sets the standards for when, and what kind of, a recall is required.  

The FSIS defines three kinds of recall actions that can fairly be included under the same umbrella.  A "Class I recall" should occur in "a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death."  (Editor’s note: "should" is italicized because sometimes food product manufacturers do not issue class I recalls even when circumstances require it.)  Under this definition, a Class I recall should occur any time a food product is known or suspected to be contaminated with any foodborne pathogen, whether bacterial or viral.  The reason:  bacteria and viruses make people sick, and as a result, food contaminated by them will make people sick.

A "Class II recall" should occur in "a situation in which use of or exposure to a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote."  This is a little less clear than the definition of a Class I recall, but I certainly believe that the consequences of foodborne disease are simply too extreme for food companies to play fast and loose under these definitions.  A Class I recall should occur every time a food manufacturer knows, or has reason to know, that a product it has produced is or may be contaminated with a foodborne pathogen.  Every time.

Finally, a "market withdrawal"

occurs when a product has a minor violation that would not be subject to FDA legal action. The firm removes the product from the market or corrects the violation. For example, a product removed from the market due to tampering, without evidence of manufacturing or distribution problems, would be a market withdrawal.

A "market withdrawal" has no place in the world of food contamination.  Again, salmonella and e. coli and campylobacter and hepatitis and every other foodborne pathogen are simply too dangerous for companies to try to avoid their obligations by calling what should be a recall a "market withdrawal"–something done purely to avoid the media ramifications of saying that you’re product has been recalled.  This has been done before under circumstances where a Class I recall was surely warranted. Continue Reading Recall basics for food products

The USDA is conducting testing on tater tots that were distributed to schools in Nebraska after several children who ate the tater tots complained of upset stomachs, according to the Associated Press.  A recall of 25,000 pounds of tater tots that were distributed to schools and day care centers was initiated following the complaints of