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Is There a Pattern to FSIS Recalls?

Last year, after a particularly large recall of tainted meat was announced late one Friday night, marlerblog.com analyzed the recall patterns for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The question then was whether there were a preponderance of late Friday or weekend announcements and, if so, whether that timing might decrease public awareness of illnesses connected to contaminated food.

But public data from the USDA-FSIS website recall archive showed that Sunday was actually the only day in which there were significantly different — that is, lower — numbers of FSIS recalls, compared with other days of the week.

The question came up again recently, after FSIS announced on Friday, July 29, that ground turkey was being recalled nationwide because it was implicated in a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infection. Then on Aug. 12, FSIS announced more Friday recalls — of beef possibly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and imported diced bacon potentially tainted with Listeria.

For those who regularly track recall announcements, it sometimes seems as if meat recalls are announced by federal regulators late in the day Friday. There may even be some truth to this notion, but only if one takes into account all FSIS recalls, including those due to mislabeling, undeclared allergens, foreign materials, etc.

Looking at the number of recall announcements issued each day of the week from 2005 to the present (below) shows that the pattern of fewer Sunday recalls remains steady, but the addition of the past year’s data has led to some new, interesting patterns at FSIS:  The agency has tended to recall items for non-pathogen related reasons on Wednesdays and Fridays, while the busiest day for announcing meat recalls due to pathogen contamination is Tuesday.

While Friday has had the largest number of recalls of any day of the week during this time period, the small difference between Friday and other week days is not statistically significant.  There were 85 recalls on Fridays, while Tuesday through Thursday averaged 73 recalls during the same time period.

But the increase in Friday recalls is apparently due to the new focus on allergens in meat as reported in FSN.  These allergen-related recalls have been announced with the greatest frequency on Wednesdays and Fridays, according to the archive record.

Taking only pathogen-related recalls into consideration, a different pattern emerges, with Tuesdays seeing larger numbers of recall announcements total and on average.  Tuesdays are just shy of having statistically significantly more pathogen-related recall announcements than other days of the week. This particular pattern may be related to how meat samples are sent, received and tested at FSIS, because bacterial samples require time to grow and be analyzed.

According to this analysis, the largest number of pathogen-related meat recalls occur on Tuesdays, when people may be more likely to learn about the call back via a variety of media.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    Thank goodness this burning issue has been resolved, at long last!
    And it’s a rare victory for at least one amateur statistician who’s doing a happy dance right now in North Carolina. Now, to somehow leverage this little validation into the ego boost necessary to return him to the fray and exchange a few more blows over fantasy food.

  • Tom Skillman

    Nice work. It’s great to see data and analysis replace personal opinion and rumor. Thanks.

  • Minkpuppy

    Thanks for the correction. Sometimes personal observations can be skewed by biases.
    Personally, I thought the article was BS because I get information daily on recalls through my email and the FSIS website. No one day stands out over the others. In some cases, inspectors know before the recall is announced, especially if their plants received recalled product.