As consumers, we rely on the food safety system when we buy groceries. And, we expect that if one of our purchases has been recalled our grocery store will warn us.
However, a new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund states that Americans are not hearing about food recalls, and that communication breakdown can have serious repercussions for public health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans continue to get sick from the food they eat every year. Although the food safety system focuses on getting recalled food out of stores, individual consumers may be unaware they have contaminated food in a pantry, refrigerator or freezer in their home. Effective communication about recalls is critical to combat foodborne illness.
Although they might not be the cause of a recall, grocery stores are access points in the food safety system in which consumers frequently interact. Grocery stores often have unique information about us and our purchasing habits making it easy to improve transparency about recall notification efforts. And they should.
Based on publicly available information, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund recently assessed whether the nation’s 26 largest supermarket chains tell customers about recall policies, in-store notification, and direct customer notification. Eighty percent of the nation’s 26 largest supermarket chains including Albertson’s, Safeway and Whole Foods received a failing grade for recall information. Only Harris Teeter, Kroger, Smith’s and Target received a passing grade.
To avoid consumers needing to go on a scavenger hunt to find out if food they recently purchased was recalled, we recommend the following:
FDA and USDA should:
Grocery Stores should:
Until customers can easily find information on food recalls, many people will unnecessarily put their health at risk.
Arizona PIRG Education Fund
Editor's note: The Arizona PIRG Education Fund is an organization that conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. The organization’s report, Food Recall Failure, can be found at arizonapirgedfund.org