Food Recalls: What should you do?

Over the last few years, there have been several foods recalled for various reasons, with foodborne illness and undeclared allergens/mislabeling being the most common. While the phrase food recall sounds quite scary, taking reasonable steps to protect yourself doesn’t have to be. Here are some frequently asked questions about food recalls.

Q: What is a food recall?

A: Food recalls are the removal of a particular food product from the marketplace due to a possible hazard or contamination. Many of the recent food recalls have been due to bacterial contamination such as E.Coli, Salmonella, or Listeria. However, the most common type of food recall has to do with mislabeling, which usually isn’t an issue for most people, but can be a BIG issue for those with food allergies. For example, undeclared peanuts or milk can cause severe reactions in those allergic to these foods, so these must be appropriately denoted on the food label. You can sign up for emails from the FDA detailing specific food recalls by clicking here.

Q: What do I do if I think I’ve purchased a recalled food?

A: First, don’t panic, although I know that’s easier said than done. Remember, many food recalls have nothing to do with bacteria or possible foodborne illness. Sometimes, food manufacturers will issue a recall if they even suspect something might be wrong, which is usually a precautionary measure. If you suspect you have a recalled item in your refrigerator, check the label carefully to make sure it’s the specific item recalled. Recall notices list the months in which the product was sold, expiration dates, and serial numbers. Some even list the affected grocery stores where the items were sold. Also, check to see WHY the food was recalled. Was it for undeclared milk? Are you (or someone who could eat the food) allergic to dairy? If not, the food is safe for you to eat.

Q: Should I eat recalled food?

A: No, unless it’s for an undeclared allergen that doesn’t affect you or anyone else who could potentially eat the food. Otherwise, all recalled foods should be thrown away or taken back to the store for a refund. Food recall notices will often provide instructions on what to do with the product. Do not feed the food to your pets. also states that you should not open the food to determine whether there is an off-color or smell. Remember, bacteria and viruses don’t have an odor. If you’ve already opened the packaging, wash your hands with soap and water.

Q: What if I already ate a recalled food?

A: Again, don’t panic, but be watchful for symptoms that could indicate illness. If you develop diarrhea, muscle aches, vomiting, fever, or rash, get checked out by your doctor. Pregnant women, small children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems may want to report in earlier to a physician, even before symptoms set in.

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