In its second annual “How Safe is Our Food” report issued by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, analysts looked at a recall involving Tyson chicken strip products and another concerning Romaine lettuce in an attempt to determine where improvements could be made.
“This year, we see an even clearer trend that there’s a divergence between food overseen by the USDA and the FDA,” Adam Garber, head of PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog team, told Fox News. “It’s a complicated division of labor between the two agencies.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million people, or one in six, are sickened every year by foodborne illnesses, accounting for 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Garber noted that while the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which applies to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has helped cut down on the amount of hazardous food being sold by 34 percent, recalls in meat and poultry, overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), remain “sky-high.”
The analysis found that the most hazardous meat and poultry recalls have nearly doubled with an 85 percent increase since 2013, which marks a slight increase from 2018. Companies also reported recovering an average of 16 percent of recalled meat and poultry in completed recalls between 2013 and 2019.
The analysis also pointed out that nearly all of the recalls initiated through the FDA are voluntary and come from the manufacturers and distributors. Additionally, outdated factory machines and slow-moving regulatory guidelines involving water systems may also be contributing to the number of recalls issued each year.
While Garber acknowledges that it’s “not realistic that we’ll remove every source of contamination and there will never be a recall,” he said his team’s analysis highlights the need for tighter regulations and less disparity between the governing agencies.
But until that happens, he said it’s up to the consumer to be proactive in order to prevent contaminated foods from reaching their plate.
“You have to take it upon yourself to stay up-to-date on recalls,” he said, adding that while media outlets cover larger recalls, there may be small, local ones that go unnoticed. He suggested checking in with local retailers to ensure products being sold are not part of the recall.
He said it’s also important to follow food-safety guidelines, such as washing produce and cooking meat and poultry thoroughly. However, he acknowledges that it’s not always possible to catch the microscopic organisms that may make you ill, which is why it’s important for regulatory measures to be enforced.
“Food recalls indicate where the problems are and where we should put energy into making our food safer,” he said. “When we implement protections, they work, and when we leave them on the store shelf, people get hurt.”