Editor’s note: Today Food Safety News takes a look back at the most significant recalls in the United States in 2018. As in past years, our year-end coverage is not merely a list of individual stories by individual writers. Generally, significant events are the other way around. Multiple stories by multiple writers are usually involved in our recall coverage, especially when illnesses or multiple companies are involved. It takes a newsroom — not solo work — to give readers the information they have come to expect from us.
Some of the biggest food recall news of 2018 didn’t come from a food producer or distributor. And, it didn’t force consumers to check their cupboards or refrigerators for potentially poisonous food. It came from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in September when he announced the agency would begin publicly disclosing retail locations that may have sold or distributed recalled food — in some circumstances.
The shift away from protecting “confidential corporate information” and toward public safety is so significant it made our Top 10 list of food safety news stories for 2018.
Another headline out of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2018 recall file was “the agency’s first-ever mandatory recall order,” Gottlieb said in a Late November statement about the FDA’s investigation of contamination of kratom products and dozens of related illnesses. The kratom situation, which included multiple recalls and a Salmonella outbreak, also earned a spot on the Food Safety News Top 10 list for the year.
Other big recall news in the “Year of the Dog” involved millions of eggs, millions of pounds of meat and poultry, an unrevealed volume of other foods under the jurisdiction of FDA and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Here, in no particular order, are some of the most noteworthy recalls initiated in 2018.
It wasn’t an official recall, but many growers and others in the romaine supply chain launched a voluntary “market withdrawal” of all forms and brands of the popular leafy green two days before Thanksgiving. The action was at the request of the FDA, which announced the third E. coli outbreak in 12 months on Nov. 20. Hundreds of people in the United States and Canada fell ill in the three outbreaks. At least five people died.
Outbreak investigators found the outbreak strain of E. coli O157: H7 involved in the fall outbreak in the sediment of an irrigation pond on Adam Brothers Farm in Santa Maria, CA. The romaine harvest was well over by December when the contamination was confirmed, but in mid-December, the family-owned farm recalled red and green leaf lettuces and cauliflower in relation to the contaminated pond.
In October, JBS Tolleson Inc., a beef producer in Arizona that is part of the multi-national Brazilian company JBS S.A., recalled 6.5 million pounds of ground beef because of links to a Salmonella outbreak. The company expanded the recall in December to a total of more than 12 million pounds. As of Dec. 12, there were 333 people with confirmed Salmonella Newport infections across 28 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jennie-O ground turkey
Although the CDC first announced a Salmonella outbreak traced to raw turkey in July, there weren’t any related turkey recalls until Nov. 15 when Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales in Barron, WI, recalled more than 91,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products. On Dec. 21 a Jennie-O Store Sales location in Faribault, MN, recalled more than 164,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the CDC report the outbreak strain has been identified in samples taken from raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products, and live turkeys. A single, common supplier of raw turkey products or of live turkeys has not been identified that could account for the whole outbreak. As of Dec. 21, the CDC was reporting 216 people with confirmed Salmonella infections, including one death, across 38 states.
On April 13, 2018, Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, IN, recalled more than 206 million shell eggs because they were implicated in a Salmonella outbreak bacteria. Three days later Cal-Maine Foods Inc. voluntarily recalled more than 280,000 eggs it had purchased from Rose Acre Farms. The CDC reported 45 people were infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella across 10 states.
In September, Gravel Ridge Farms in Cullman County, AL, recalled eggs because of Salmonella. Forty-four people across 11 states were infected. The FDA put its new policy to work, listing some retailers that carried the Gravel Ridge Farms eggs.
McCain Foods USA Inc.
At least a half-dozen companies recalled more than 755 tons of food products because they contained ingredients from a McCain Foods production facility in Colton, CA. The factory produces fire roasted caramelized or sauteed frozen fruit and vegetable products.
In a news release, McCain said it “identified a potential health risk” to its product line at Colton. The company was not exact about its problem at Colton when it originated, the volume of food involved, or where it was distributed.
The products were sold in Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Walmart, Kroger and Target stores across the country. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service reported more than a dozen food manufacturers in the U.S. received vegetables from McCain that were potentially contaminated with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
When Walmart and Kroger pulled fresh-cut melon products from their shelves because they were implicated in a Salmonella outbreak, it took supplier Caito Foods 48 hours to initiate a recall of the fresh fruit. The volume of precut fruit products involved was not disclosed.
Caito distributed the fresh-cut products, packaged with generic labels, to Costco, JayC, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon. The CDC reported 77 people were confirmed ill in the related outbreak.
Del Monte fresh vegetable trays
An outbreak of infections from the Cyclospora parasite spurred Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. to recall vegetable trays containing fresh broccoli, cauliflower, celery sticks, carrots, and dill dip in mid-June. Neither the company nor the FDA reported how many pounds were recalled.
Del Monte distributed the vegetable-dip trays to retailers including Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, Food Max Supermarket and Peapod. The CDC reported 250 people in four states were confirmed with the parasitic infections.
Also because of Cyclospora parasite infections, McDonald’s pulled an undisclosed number of salads from restaurants in 14 states in July. Ingredients for the salads were distributed by Caito Foods, but were produced by Fresh Express.
Caito Foods officials told the FDA that Fresh Express had notified it of a product recall involving romaine that could be contaminated with the parasites. FDA issued a public alert after Cyclospora was confirmed in Fresh Express product, but the romaine-carrot mix was past its shelf life at that point. When the outbreak was declared over, there had been 511 people across 16 states confirmed with Cyclospora infections.
Retailers including Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Walgreens removed salads and wraps from their shelves because of the situation.
In June the Kellogg Co. issued an international recall of its Honey Smacks cereal in relation to a multistate Salmonella outbreak. The massive recall is still active. However, the CDC declared the outbreak over in late September when the confirmed patient count was 135.
Public health officials are concerned that consumers could still have unopened boxes of the recalled cereal in their homes because of the product’s long shelf life. All Honey Smacks cereal, regardless of size, with best-by dates through June 14, 2019, is subject to the recall.
Duncan Hines cake mix
In November Conagra Foods recalled four flavors of Duncan Hines brand cake mix after federal investigators told them Oregon’s public health department found Salmonella in a box of Duncan Hines cake mix. The strain matched that of patients in a multistate Salmonella outbreak.
A spokesperson with the Food and Drug Administration told Food Safety News the manufacturing plant where the recalled cake mix was produced is in the United States. The FDA’s outbreak investigation announcement Nov. 5 reported the agency was inspecting the manufacturing plant, but did not indicate where the plant is located.
Goldfish crackers, Hungry Man dinners, Ritz crackers
Several varieties of “the snack that smiles back” were voluntarily recalled by Pepperidge Farm during the summer after the whey powder used in a seasoning ingredient was found to be contaminated with Salmonella.
In addition to the Goldfish crackers from Pepperidge Farm, several other products had to be recalled, including Hungry Man frozen dinners, Ritz brand crackers in the U.S. and Canada, and several brands of snack cakes.
Both the FDA and the FSIS reported the manufacturer of the whey powder was Associated Milk Producers Inc., but the company did not issue a public recall. Officials with Minnesota-based AMPI posted a news release in July saying none of the implicated whey powder was sold directly to consumers.
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