Lettuce Recall in PA, OH, IA (and what we found out about the life-cycle of a recall today)

16 Oct

This year’s FLL challenge involves food safety. Here we will periodically post leading news stories about contamination in our food supply, both nationally and locally. This one jumped out at us because Giant Eagle is one of the few local grocery stores in our area, and I had a salad last night. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t made from one of the tainted packages of lettuce!)

If you do think that you have eaten a food item that you suspect of food poisoning, (after you call your doctor, ER, and/or 911) notify your state or county Health Department to initiate an investigation and possible recall. In our research, we discovered that it only takes two local reports of food poisoning within a specified period of time to trigger an outbreak investigation. State health departments analyze disease  reports, coordinate with  County health departments, and report cases of foodborne illness to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  {We are trying to figure out what happens next here, but we suspect the use of computer databases called FoodNet and Pulsenet  to search for similar outbreaks in neighboring counties and/or states.}  During a multi-state  outbreak, the  CDC  does investiagation to identify the source and scope. FDA gets involved in  when an outbreak has been identified and a food product is suspected as the cause. The USDA gets involved when raw meat, poultry and eggs are involved. Once notified, the FDA’s job is notify everyone (this is the recall that we hear about on the nightly news), identify the contamination problem and even take regulatory action to keep it from happening again.

Here’s something that surprised us. Almost all recalls are voluntary on the company’s part.  We think that it would be very very bad for business if the problem were so bad that a recall was forced by the government! Anyway, at some point in this recall life-cycle, (find out how long), the company  issues a voluntary recall of the affected food.  The FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) is the agency that verifies that the recalled items are off of the shelves. If it is on a farm, than the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) gets involved as well.

So in conclusion, these local, state and federal agencies work to find out why the contamination occurred, they take steps to control the contamination, and look for ways to prevent future outbreaks. They may trace foods to their origins, test foods, make sure safe food handling is happening in the factories, lead farm investigations, and announce food recalls.   This all takes a very long time (how long exactly?) and we are hoping that our solution will help shorten this process.

Our next lesson on recalls on this blog will have to do with the laws in place that apply. I know you will all be waiting to read about that!

And no, before you ask, our project has NOTHING to do with recalls. ;D Or maybe it has everything to do with recalls. I am not saying!

Here is the Lettuce recall info:

  • The lettuce was produced by River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC, with a use-by date of October 14. There have been no reported cases of customer illness because of eating the lettuce.
  • This Reuters article misleadingly tries to sensationalize the recall by mentioning the Cantaloupe lysteria recall, which was serious and caused many deaths.
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Food Safety, Project


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