It may be bits of plastic in Mars bars or salmonella traces in supermarket dips, recalls of food products are carried out for a whole host of reasons. But do you know when a food product is recalled?
The sad news this week that a child has died and 11 people hospitalised from E coli poisoning allegedly linked to blue cheese showed in very stark terms the importance of effective food safety controls.
It can sometimes be easy to take food safety for granted – or assume that if you do eat contaminated food, you will at worse have to suffer a few days with sickness and diarrhoea. But as this outbreak has shown, the effects can sometimes be devastating.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) are currently reviewing how food controls are carried out, including the relative role of local authority inspections and food business own-checks.
Our research, carried out last year highlighted how, with local authority resources under strain (PDF), many are struggling to keep up with food hygiene inspections and the levels of business compliance can vary greatly.
The FSA and FSS are also taking a closer look at how food recalls work. In the case of the E coli outbreak, the producer of the cheese, believed to be the most likely cause, is reported to have undertaken a voluntary recall of potentially affected products once the issue came to light.
Food product recalls do take place on a surprisingly regular basis. Those issued through the FSA in recent weeks have included ice cream containing metal, sausage rolls containing plastic and yoghurt containing rubber. Cake has been recalled because of risk of salmonella and chicken salad products because of undercooked chicken. Indian ready meals have also been wrongly date labelled with a best before date, rather than a use-by date.
Improving food recalls
Compared with other product safety issues (the Whirlpool saga is particularly front of mind), the food recall system is often held up as being reasonably effective.
The FSA and FSS will be looking at whether it does work as it should – including how effectively consumers are informed about affected products so that they do not eat them and how well potentially affected products are removed from supermarket or, perhaps sometimes more challenging, small retailer shelves or restaurant menus. Responsibility for over-seeing that this happens, once again falls to local authorities.
So tell me, have you ever been affected by a product recall? Have you ever been made aware that some products have been affected (for example through signs in the supermarket or newspaper ads)? Do you think that there are better ways of making people aware of recalls?