Health Opinion

The Rise In Food Safety Recalls Actually Means Our Food Is Getting Safer

2018 has definitely been a whirlwind year in the world of food safety news, as it appears that new food poisoning outbreaks have been making headlines almost every other week. It’s caused some concern that perhaps outbreaks are increasing, which could mean that our food supply is less safe.

That’s likely not the case, though, as the actual amount of outbreaks doesn’t seem to be changing. The FDA is just getting a lot better at catching them.

Since President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, the FDA has mobilized into more of a proactive body that’s been trying to snuff out food poisonings as early as they can. That has led to an increase in technology at the disposal of the food agency, and they’ve been using it to better identify potential nationwide outbreaks.

This technology, better known as whole genome sequencing (WGS), lets FDA and CDC officials identify outbreaks as they are starting to happen on a national scale. WGS keeps tabs on the DNA of specific species and subspecies of bacteria. As people get sick, samples are collected to identify these pathogens, which are then uploaded to the WGS database. Monitors can then pinpoint these microbes and track them across the entire nation. Thus, if two people in different parts of the country get sick from the same food and bacteria, the FDA and CDC can see that and determine that an outbreak is happening.

A few years ago, this would’ve been impossible to do, which is why so many illnesses likely flew under the radar. It’s estimated that 48 million illnesses attributed to food poisoning occur every year, but only a small fraction are reported. In 2016, for example, all of the reported food outbreaks together resulted in 14,259 illnesses, a minuscule number compared to the actual estimate.

Through new technology, though, the FDA can not only better respond to food poisoning situations, but also track down what food is responsible, who made it, and where it is currently being sold. Thus, recalls can be issued a lot faster to prevent more consumers from eating something that was contaminated and getting sick.

The FDA also has some other technology that helps it keep track of potential recalls prior to their outbreak. One of these systems is the Reportable Food Registry, a report filing software companies fill out the instant they believe contaminated food could have made it out to consumers. Food production facilities have 24 hours to fill a report out on that site from when that moment occurs. The FDA then reviews these reports and requests suppliers and recipients to be notified as needed. This creates a chain of reports that helps coordinate if a recall becomes necessary.

By using this software, the recall process is streamlined to happen a lot faster. It also acts as a cautionary system to have all potential scenarios covered. Not every report in the RFR will translate to a recall, but for the FDA and CDC, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food safety.

There are also third-party programs in place that the FDA keeps tabs on that help them identify potential food poisoning scenarios as well. The most well-known amongst these is, where consumers can report when they got sick and where they ate from that could have caused it. In the past, the site has been used to monitor several major food poisoning events at chains like Chipotle, where the FDA did eventually step in and close restaurants so they could investigate the potential outbreaks.

For the FDA, sites like these provide a huge benefit, since more customers reporting means that they can capture more of the millions of food poisonings that go unnoticed every year. It helps them catch food safety violations from restaurants at a better rate as well, ensuring that those are just as safe as the food that comes out of production facilities.

All of these new technologies have led to an overall safer food supply, as the FDA can catch nationwide outbreaks better, track pathogens across the country, and have information on potential recalls before they even begin.

This proactive approach to food safety does mean that we see more recalls in the news, but that only means that the government is getting better at catching them and preventing us from eating that food.

For us, this means that we can trust in a safer food supply from both grocery stores and restaurants. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating bacteria from the food, but when those contaminations do happen, we’re much less likely to consume them now thanks to the technology the FDA and CDC are leveraging.

So the next time you see a recall make headlines, know that it’s the result of the FDA and CDC doing their jobs better and decreasing your chances of getting food poisoning.

Health News Science

CDC Urges Entire U.S. To Throw Out Romaine Lettuce Because Of E. Coli

A massive, multi-state outbreak of E. Coli 0157:H7 in Romaine lettuce has pushed the CDC to take drastic measures. They’re now calling on the entire country to throw out their romaine if they’re not sure where it comes from.

Currently, 53 individuals have reported illnesses associated with the E. Coli outbreak, with the largest concentrations of disease occurring in Idaho and Pennsylvania.

In total, people in 16 different states have been involved with the contaminated lettuce, which the CDC knows to be coming from Yuma, Arizona. They appear to have not confirmed a single source from that area yet, so for now, they’re recommending that all romaine from the region be tossed out. This includes whole heads, leaves, chopped salads, and chopped pieces of lettuce.

If you don’t know where your romaine lettuce is from, the CDC advises that you toss it out regardless, even if any has been eaten without any ill effects. You should also scrub your fridge where any romaine has been present.

E. Coli 0157: H7 is a particularly nasty strain of bacteria because of some of the potential diseases it causes.

Most people will feel its effects within 1-10 days of exposure, and general symptoms will include vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea (which is often bloody).

Five to ten percent of those affected, however, can develop what’s known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. This condition appears about 7 days after symptoms begin, and impacts the kidney to the point where organ failure can occur. Those who develop HUS require hospitalization, but usually recover within a few weeks. The disease can prove to be fatal, however, making food poisoning involving E. Coli 0157:H7 even more of a concern.

For now, it’s best to avoid any romaine lettuce that comes from Yuma, Arizona, or whose origin is unknown, until more specific conclusions are reached by the CDC on this outbreak.

UPDATE: While no source has yet to be identified, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib announced in a tweet that Yuma’s lettuce season is nearing its end, meaning that any romaine lettuce likely on shelves now is from California. To be safe, though, consumers should continue to ask grocers and restaurants where their romaine comes from.

Health News Packaged Food Products

WARNING: Multi-State E. Coli Outbreak Linked to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter

If you’re a fan of alternative nut butters, pay attention. A multi-state outbreak of the infamous 0157:H7 strain of E. coli has been reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and is now currently being investigated by the FDA, the CDC, in the states that the outbreak has occurred.

Investigations have indicated that I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter is the likely food containing the bacteria, as all of those who were infected and interviewed consumed the spread within the past week. Since E. coli O157:H7 has an incubation period of 2-8 days, it’s likely to be the source of this outbreak.

So far, sixteen people from nine different states across the country have reported being infected with this nasty pathogen, and at least six have been hospitalized as a result. Eleven of the twelve infected are under eighteen years old.

E. coli o157:H7 is one of the most notorious food-borne pathogens out there. It produces a Shiga toxin that causes symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea that usually wear off after a week. In several cases when the symptoms last longer, it can result in a type of kidney failure known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) that requires immediate medical care. A third of the infected in this outbreak have developed HUS so far.

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Right now, the CDC is recommending that nobody eat the I.M. Healthy brand of SoyNut butter or its granola products, which are coated with the SoyNut butter. Schools and other institutions are being asked to not serve any of these products as well.

SoyNut Butter has also issued a voluntary recall of their products with specific “best by” dates between July and November of 2018. A family has sued the company, according to the Chicago Tribune, regarding the outbreak, which resulted in their son being hospitalized with HUS after ingesting some of the SoyNut Butter.

If you have a jar of this product, make sure to not eat it. It’s probably best to dispose of it as well to prevent more E. coli-related diseases from occurring.

Health News Packaged Food Products

Sabra Hummus Just Recalled Nearly Every One Of Their Products

Sabra Hummus just experienced a nasty recall.

A recall of the hummus-making giant’s products was expanded recently after Listeria monocytogenes were discovered at its manufacturing facility.

According to Modern Farmer, virtually every flavor and product of Sabra hummus has been added to the recall list, meaning that almost all of Sabra’s products are off of the shelves. Below is a list of all of the Sabra products affected:


Photo: FDA 

Listeria is a particularly nasty food-borne pathogen. While it can just cause mild gastrointestinal illness (ie. diarrhea), it can also lead to serious health consequences such as meningitis. This is a more serious, invasive form of Listeriosis, (as the disease is called) and is the third deadliest pathogen in the United States, with over 90% of those infected each year ending up in the hospital. It also has a higher rate of meningitis in elderly or already sick populations, and leads to several miscarriages or stillbirths in pregnant women.

Outbreaks of Listeria are very common in products like hummus, which are refrigerated, ready-to-eat, and high in protein – the perfect environment for cold-loving Listeria to grow in. Once it’s found on equipment, it’s incredibly hard to get off – as Blue Bell just recently found out.

The Blue Bell ice cream manufacturer, who already has had to stop production once due to Listeria once before, issued another recall due to the pathogen earlier this year.

Massive outbreaks that affect an entire company have destroyed the image of a brand multiple times before. Blue Bell is a more recent example of that, as is the heavy hit Chipotle took when their massive food-borne illness outbreak began. These companies were able to survive and continue selling product, but others weren’t so lucky.

Jack in the Box, for example, nearly went out of business when an E. coli outbreak killed four children and caused their parent company to lose over $160 million in sales. Salmonella knocked the Peanut Corporation of America out of business after the bacteria was discovered in its peanut butter – and the company knowingly shipped it anyway. Hallmark Beef had to file for bankruptcy in the largest meat recall in history, where over $143 million of beef had to be recalled.

With nearly all of Sabra’s hummus being recalled and the popularity of the hummus giant, this recall is at the scale of those of companies who have failed to recover in the past. This means that there is a possibility we may not see Sabra products in the future. They have to at least clean their facilities and ensure they are free from Listeria contamination – a process that took Blue Bell over half a year to get right.

Fortunately, that has proven to not be the case for Sabra, who recently confirmed to Foodbeast that inspections and cleaning have taken place, products are in production again and heading back into stores, and full inventory restocking should occur within the next few weeks.

Kudos to Sabra for getting everything sorted out so fast and getting back into stores. They definitely have gotten the cleaning and sanitation process necessary to reopen production down to a swift science. Cheers for getting your hummus back up so quick, Sabra, and let’s hope we don’t experience another scary, massive recall like this for a while.