Recall These Thoughts

Highlights from Stericycle's Q2 "Tainted Table" Report

Stericycle this month published their Q2 report on product recalls in the United States, which they’ve called “Tainted Table”. I love these quarterly reports from Stericycle, and I think this one has some interesting bits worth highlighting.

In Q2 there were over 80 times more FDA recalls (measured in “units”) and 45 times more USDA recalls (measured in pounds) compared to Q1. The USDA recalled 1.1 million pounds in Q1, and a whopping 53.3 million pounds in Q2. (I always appreciated the USDA’s use of mass compared to the FDA’s reliance on “units”).

Of the FDA recalls, there were more pathogen-related recalls than in any of the past two years. This could likely be a result of increased testing and a large number of recalls linked to past outbreaks thanks to whole genome sequencing.

The report also highlights the role played by the “multiplier effect”, which I have written about here. Their example of the sunflower seed recalls that resulted in over 600,000 units of product being recalled highlights this multiplier effect well. Not only were many brands of plain-ol’ sunflower seeds affected, so were cereals, granola bars, and store-prepared salads. It was a mess. It shows one of the consequences of the immense consolidation and centralization of certain aspects of the food industry as well as just how serious “ingredient” recalls can be.

More recently, and not covered by the report, the recent E. coli contaminated flour recalls (see here, here, here, here, and here, and the original recall here) demonstrates this phenomenon well. The spread of this recall across so many different brands and products is quite remarkable. The original recall took place on July 1, and here we are 6 weeks later and we are still seeing recalls related to this flour.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting year for recalls in the United States. Looking forward to Q3!