OPINION

Garber: Improved communication needed for food recalls

By Adam Garber
Posted 2/24/20

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 …

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OPINION

Garber: Improved communication needed for food recalls

Posted

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:

  • Require stores to make recall notification policies available on their website and upon request.
  • Require stores to post signs about recalls at the cash register and on the store shelf where the product would normally appear for at least two weeks for perishable food and for at least one month for frozen foods.
  • Require stores to create direct customer notification programs that alert consumers of recalled products within 48 hours of a recall.

Grocery Stores should:

  • Post food recall notification policies on their website and provide a copy upon request.
  • Post signs for recalls at the cash register and on the store shelf where the product would normally appear for at least two weeks for perishable food and for at least one month for frozen foods. Use the information collected through loyalty programs to directly alert customers of recalled products within 48 hours of a recall.

Consumers should:

  • Sign up for recall alerts on the FDA website (https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts) and USDA website (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/home).
  • Follow FDA and USDA social media accounts for updated information about recalls.
  • Ask the customer service desk for information about how you can be notified about recalls for food you purchase and where recall notices are posted in the store.

Until customers can easily find information on food recalls, many people will unnecessarily put their health at risk.

Adam Garber
Consumer watchdog
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

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