There were more than 100 food recalls during the just-ended first quarter of the year, according to federal food safety agencies.

At least 48 of the 103 recalls — almost half the total — were because manufacturers had used but failed to declare some form of allergens — ingredients such as egg, wheat, nuts or milk.

Four days into the new year, President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, which now gives the agency the authority to force food companies to recall suspect products.  However, it appears that only voluntary recalls have occurred since the FSMA became law.

For the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the first quarter saw only three recalls for the dangerous E. coli O157:H7 pathogen most associated with beef cattle.

Those three recalls of meat managed by FSIS totaled only 40,328 pounds.   

Another federally inspected meat business reported it had received E. coli contaminated ground beef from Pico-Rivera, CA-based American Food Service. That brought the first beef recall for E. coli for 2011 from American for 3,170 pounds.

It managed to recover 1,788 pounds.

The other two E. coli recalls came on March 8 and 22, first Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in Arkansas City, KS, and then Palmyra Bologna Co. in Palmyra, PA for 23,000 pounds.  FSIS lists both of those recalls as remaining active.

Managing recalls associated with allergens was the biggest activity for both FDA, with 34, and FSIS with 14.

Among its 76 first quarter recalls, FDA was dealing with contamination threats from Salmonella (15), Botulism (10), Listeria (9) and E. coli (1).  Somewhat unusual for the period were four recalls announced by FDA due to elevated levels of lead.

Some of the lead cases involved a company called Candy Dynamics whose brand names are “Toxic Waste” and “Nuclear Sludge.”

Two more FDA recalls were for mold and incorrect usage information on the package.

Two FSIS recalls were for Listeria contamination and one for fear of Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin. The staph threat came from a smokehouse malfunction at Zweigle’s Inc. in Rochester, NY, which led to the recall of 2,997 pounds of bologna products.

The biggest recall for pathogen contamination was for Listeria, and involved 64,000 pounds of chicken and pork products packaged with broccoli from Taylor Farms Pacific in Tracy, CA.  Another Listeria-related recall was for 7,875 pounds of ready-to-eat Angus Beef patties from United Food Group in Vernon, CA.

Other FSIS recalls were for mislabeling (4), lack of inspection (1), foreign materials (1), and spoilage (1).

Included in the more serious FDA recalls was the one for E. coli in which DeFranco and Sons of Los Angeles, CA recalled bulk and packaged in-shell nut products containing hazelnuts on March 4.

Later in the month, on March 22, Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. recalled 4,992 cartons of cantaloupes distributed in western states for contamination with Salmonella Panama.

Both recalls were associated with multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Also during the first quarter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improved its website for disclosing information about recalls, making it more consumer friendly with more organized information. The change makes it easier to track and compare recall information.