Recall These Thoughts

May is Official Listeria Monocytogenes Month

Okay, so perhaps not precisely the month of May, but starting in late April there’s been a spat of recalls attributable to Listeria in Canada and the United States. Looking at the CFIA recall listings for the first 10 days of May:

And if we look into the last week of April we also get:

Needless to say, for the last two weeks Listeria has had a field day in Canada. The United States is not exempt! In what Juska et al (2003) refer to as the “amplification” of food safety threats, or what Stericycle call the “multiplier effect”, listeria contamination from SunOpta Inc., a sunflower seed supplier has resulted in a massive cascade of recalls across the United States.

This series of recalls includes Sunflower Seed Snacks, trail mix, protein bars, Brown and Haley Chocolate snacks, and perhaps most stunningly 17 tons of Trader Joe’s salad.

Similarly, frozen vegetables from CRF Foods in Pasco Washington were recalled on April 23rd and subsequently expanded on May 2 to include over 42 brands and 358 products (notably, just in time for Listeria Month!)

It is rather stunning how far an error at a single supplier can reach in the contemporary food system. It almost seems as if we are reaching a level of consolidation and concentration in which the industry is too big to fail. The last two weeks has seen tens of tons of food pulled from the market and destroyed as a result of mistakes made by only a few companies… and this is only the beginning of Listeria Month!