What is a Food Recall?
In the food industry, countless things can go wrong. A food recall is when a company or individual recalls a product that may be dangerous to consumers. This can happen for various reasons, such as incorrect labeling, undeclared allergens, or microbial contamination. If you've ever been affected by a food recall, you know how frustrating it can be.
The food recall process involves the removal of foods from the market that violate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations. The FDA regulates all foods except meat, poultry, and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Food recalls caused by foodborne illness outbreaks are an increasingly significant issue, so it's more important than ever to be vigilant about food safety. Specifically, food recalls caused by Salmonella and listeria have jumped in 2022, reaching the largest share of recalls for its type in recent years.
No food business wants to discover that a batch of their food products is contaminated or that an outbreak of E. coli or Salmonella stemmed from their establishment. Biological contamination is a common cause of food poisoning, spoilage, and costly waste. What’s more, it can be prevented in many cases.
At Vital Oxide, it’s our goal to help maintain clean and safe environments for all. Proper cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are critical steps in preventing pathogens that can cause foodborne illness in the event of a recall. This guide will outline everything you need to know about food recalls and foodborne pathogens – from what triggers them to how you can protect your business and customers. Whether you're a producer, restaurateur, or just someone who wants to stay informed, this guide has everything you need to know.
Why Are Foods Recalled?
According to the FDA, a “food may be recalled because of contamination with disease-causing microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites; the presence of foreign objects, such as broken glass or fragments of metal or plastic; or failure to list a major allergen in the food, such as peanuts or shellfish, on the product label.”
Food recalls are usually voluntarily initiated by the manufacturer or distributor of the food. In some situations, the FDA may request or mandate a recall. There are instances where the violation can be corrected, and the food returned to the marketplace.
How Can You Find out If a Food Has Been Recalled?
First, you can check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website. The FDA maintains a list of all food recalls that have been issued. You can also sign up for email alerts to be notified of any new recalls as they happen.
Additionally, you can check the websites of your local grocery stores and food manufacturers. Many stores and manufacturers will post recall information on their websites as soon as it becomes available. Finally, you can contact your local food safety agency. They will be able to provide you with up-to-date information on food recalls in your area.
How Are Food Recalls Handled?
The first step in any recall is to remove the product from store shelves and restaurant menus. The next step is to figure out how far back the product needs to be traced so that all potentially affected products can be identified and removed from circulation. Once all potentially affected products have been identified, a notice is sent out to retailers, distributors, and consumers about the recall.
It’s important to note that not every food recall makes headlines. In fact, many recalls are handled quietly and efficiently without much fanfare, which is why consumers should remain vigilant.
What Should Consumers Do If They Believe They Have a Recalled Food in Their Possession?
First, read the recall notice carefully and follow any product-specific instructions. Often, recalled products may be returned to the store where they were purchased for a full refund. If not, dispose of the recalled product properly; if the item may be contaminated, wrap it securely before putting it in the trash. Important: Do not give the recalled product to others, such as a food bank or a pet.
Next, follow these steps for cleaning and sanitizing surfaces that may have been in contact with contaminated food:
- Use warm, soapy water to wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, sink, countertops, cutting boards, utensils, any other surfaces that may have contacted contaminated foods. Rinse.
- Sanitize food contact surfaces with Vital Oxide by spraying until visibly wet. Refer to the label for the contact time. Vital Oxide destroys 99.999% of bacteria on hard, nonporous surfaces in 60 seconds.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
What is a Foodborne Illness?
Foodborne illness, also called food poisoning, is caused by consuming contaminated food, beverages, or water and can be a variety of bacteria, parasites, viruses, and/or toxins. Many of these pathogens can be acquired through more than just food, beverages, or water. They may be acquired through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomite), person-to-person spread, animal contact, the environment, and recreational or drinking water.
Foodborne illnesses are a serious public health threat. Many pathogens can cause them, but viruses and bacteria are the most common culprits.
Effective cleaning, sanitization, and disinfection of food-contact surfaces can help prevent the spread of foodborne pathogens. Using an EPA-registered product like Vital Oxide is essential to enable healthy food-handling practices.
What are the Symptoms of Foodborne Illness?
Symptoms of foodborne illness vary depending on the contaminant involved. They range from mild gastrointestinal symptoms — such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting — to more severe conditions like dehydration, kidney failure, and even death. Typically, symptoms develop within two to six hours after eating contaminated food; however, they may appear as long as two weeks later. This incubation period varies depending on the contaminant involved.
For example, Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) caused by the bacteria Salmonella enterica has an incubation period of 12 to 72 hours, but it can be longer. It’s also important to note that people with Salmonella can spread the infection from several days to several weeks after they've been infected — even if their symptoms have disappeared or they've been treated with antibiotics.
Why is Disinfecting and Sanitizing Food-Contact Surfaces Important?
Microbes are a leading cause of food contamination. Microbes can be transferred from one food to another using the same knife, cutting board, or other utensils without washing the surface or utensil in between uses. A fully cooked food can become re-contaminated if it touches other raw foods or drippings from raw foods containing pathogens.
Disinfecting and sanitizing food-contact surfaces is essential because it helps to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. Pathogens that cause food poisoning can live on surfaces like countertops, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes. If these surfaces are not adequately cleaned and disinfected, the pathogens can contaminate the food that comes into contact with them and make people sick.
Keeping any area clean and free of illness-causing germs and bacteria is important for businesses of all types. Still, it is especially critical in food service operations and other food businesses. To protect guests from sickness, businesses serving food must lower the risk of cross-contamination and foodborne illness.
Cleaning and sanitizing are essential to keeping your food service operation safe.
Soils, chemicals, germs, and other contaminants left on surfaces increase the risk of infection, especially if food can potentially come into contact with these surfaces.
When food comes in contact with unclean surfaces, it risks picking up germs and transferring them to the person consuming the food.
With routine cleaning and sanitizing procedures, you can help maintain the safety of your food service operation and lower the risk of illness.
For the health and safety of your guests, you can not use a sanitizer unless it has been approved for food contact surfaces in these areas. Using a non-food grade sanitizer on a food contact surface could otherwise result in guest illness. In some cases, the sanitizer can even be poisonous if consumed.
How Can Foodborne Illnesses Be Prevented?
Two essential preventative steps can be taken at every point of a food's journey to help prevent contamination: cleaning and sanitization.
Cleaning is a critical first step to removing bacteria that can cause foodborne illness from your kitchen. Including a sanitizing step in your cleaning routine actually reduces the number of foodborne illness-causing pathogens that survive in your kitchen – sanitizing kills bacteria.
However, sanitizing is most effective after cleaning. Cleaning is the first step to removing bacteria from these surfaces. Foodborne-illness-causing bacteria can remain on surfaces for a very long time. For example, Campylobacter can survive on kitchen surfaces for up to four hours, and Salmonella can last up to 32 hours (both can be found on raw poultry). Cleaning with warm, soapy water can physically remove dirt, grime, food residue, and some bacteria from a surface, but it does NOT kill bacteria.
Sanitizing is the second but equally important step to removing bacteria from kitchen surfaces. This step will kill any remaining bacteria.
How Can I Safely Sanitize Food-Contact Surfaces?
The best way to sanitize food-contact surfaces is to use an EPA-registered product, such as Vital Oxide. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label carefully to achieve the best results. Vital Oxide kills 99.999% of bacteria on hard, nonporous surfaces when food surface sanitizer instructions are followed.
Vital Oxide is a multi-purpose cleaner and NSF-certified (no-rinse required) food-contact sanitizer. Vital Oxide destroys 99.999% of bacteria – including common foodborne pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella enterica, Norovirus, and Listeria monocytogenes – without leaving a harmful chemical residue.
Use Vital Oxide to Sanitize Food Contact Surfaces
Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC 6538) and Escherichia coli (ATCC 11229) 99.999% sanitization of food-contact surfaces.
- Mix 1-part Vital Oxide to 9-parts water.
- For all food contact surfaces, including glassware, utensils, cookware, and dishware, scrape and pre-wash, then wash with detergent.
- Rinse with potable water, then sanitize by immersion in the product for 1 minute (or longer if specified by government sanitary code.)
- Place on a rack or drain board to air dry. Do not rinse or wipe.
How Many Cases of Salmonella Are There a Year in the U.S.?
Salmonella is a leading cause of hospitalizations stemming from food poisoning in the U.S. In 2019, the CDC reported that salmonella causes approximately 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year in America. In 2022, Salmonella and Listeria prompted 49 food and beverage recalls, representing almost two-fifths of all food product recalls—a jump from the share of salmonella- and listeria-related recalls in 2021 and the largest share in five years.
Product categories affected by potential or confirmed Salmonella contamination include baby formula, peanut butter, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and chocolate. Over the past five years, vegetables accounted for more salmonella-related cases than any other category.
Vital Oxide is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved for use against Salmonella enterica, with a contact time of 10-minutes for effective disinfection.
How Does Listeria Contamination Occur?
Certain foods, such as poultry and meats (including ready-to-eat processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meat), are at a higher risk of listeria contamination. While pasteurization and heat are used to prepare ready-to-eat processed meats to kill listeria, contamination can occur after processing. Listeria grows at refrigeration temperatures and multiplies each day the contaminated product is stored.
Listeriosis is a foodborne illness caused by bacteria (Listeria monocytogenes) that grow at refrigeration temperatures. Listeria is found in animals' intestines, soil, water, and plants. Listeria can contaminate other food through spills in the refrigerator and on food preparation surfaces. Keep Listeria out of your kitchen by cleaning and sanitizing food prep surfaces before and after use with an approved food-safe sanitizer, such as Vital Oxide. It’s important to always clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away—especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry.
How Many Recalls Are Linked to Listeria in 2022?
Potential or confirmed listeria contamination was responsible for 21 recalls in 2022. Most reported cases of listeria were in fruit and vegetables, with enoki mushrooms accounting for half of all listeria-related recalls.
How Common Are E. coli Outbreaks in the U.S.?
Each year in the U.S., E. coli infections cause approximately 265,000 illnesses and about 100 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). E. coli are a diverse group of bacteria found in food, the environment, and the intestines of healthy people and animals. This rod-shaped bacterium can live in environments with or without air. Some strains of E. coli are pathogenic, which means they can cause an infection that leads to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.
According to Dr. Darin Detwiler, a food regulatory policy professor at Northeastern University, Most E. coli outbreaks also occur in the fall, when lettuce production shifts from California's Central Coast to Arizona's Yuma Valley and California's Imperial Valley. Scientists must determine whether environmental factors, such as the water supply or other factors, are to blame.
E. coli can survive outside the body for hours to months.
What is the Best Sanitizer for Food Production and Service?
Food-contact sanitizers, sometimes called food-safe sanitizers, have been tested and certified safe for food contact. This means that even if the sanitizer comes into contact with food, it will not be harmful when ingested as long as the directions on the label are followed.
Important: Cleaners and sanitizers not approved for food contact should not be used in food prep or food contact areas. Remember, these can be toxic if ingested.
Always check the label to determine if a sanitizer is safe for food contact surfaces. If unsure, contact the manufacturer or look for an EPA registration number.
Vital Oxide is an NSF-approved food contact sanitizer effective against a broad spectrum of pathogens, including common foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli
Vital Oxide is the ideal all-in-one solution for food production facilities and food service establishments. It can be used to clean, sanitize, disinfect, inhibit mold, remove biofilm, neutralize odors, and more, all without harsh chemicals, fumes, or harmful residues.
Watch Vital Oxide destroy E. coli under a microscope:
Video Credit: @CloseIntel
- CDC Foodborne Illnesses and Germs
- CDC Foodborne Outbreak Tracking and Reporting
- CDC Recent Outbreaks
- Food Safety Recalls
- USDA Foodborne Illness and Disease
- Vital Oxide Label
Want to learn about using Vital Oxide in your production facility, restaurant, or home kitchen? Interested in a white-label program? We’d love to chat. Contact us today.