Bacterial contamination was the No. 1 cause of almost all recalls posted by the USDA during the fourth quarter of 2018, while undeclared allergens were the top cause for recalls of food under the FDA’s jurisdiction.

In its 2018 4Q Recall Index, released this morning, Stericycle reported 97.7 percent of the recalls under the jurisdiction of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) were initiated because of bacterial contamination. The pathogen behind 98.6 percent of the FSIS’s bacteria-related recalls was Salmonella. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over meat, poultry, and some processed egg products.

Public health officials detected a Salmonella outbreak in November 2018 that was traced to raw turkey products, resulting in recalls of more than 250,000 pounds of Jennie-O brand turkey. The most recent outbreak update posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Jan. 29, reported 216 people across 38 states had been confirmed with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading. Of those patients, 84 were admitted to hospitals. One person died.

Even with the large turkey recalls, beef recalls were No. 1 in terms of pounds of product recalled. Almost 72 percent of USDA-recalled products were beef. Beef was the top USDA category for recalled pounds in three quarters in 2018. 

Driving beef to the top spot in Q4 were recalls by multi-national giant JBS. The company recalled more than 12 million pounds of beef in relation to a Salmonella outbreak. In the CDC’s most recent outbreak update, posted Dec. 12, 2018, laboratory tests had confirmed 333 people across 28 states had been infected. Of those patients, 91 were admitted to hospitals. No deaths had been reported. 

Overall, there were 17 million pounds of food recalled under USDA oversight during the last three months of 2018.

For foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which account for about 80 percent of food sold in the United States, undeclared allergens were responsible for not only the highest percentage of recalls, but also for the largest numbers of individual units recalled, according to the Stericycle report.

Undeclared allergens were the impetus for 46 percent of recalls under FDA’s jurisdiction, accounting for 81 percent of the food units recalled in Q4 of 2018. One large recall of candies dominated the recalls, making up 80 percent of all recalled food units under FDA’s oversight.

There was a total of 156 recalls of FDA-regulated foods during the last quarter of 2018, according to Stericycle.

Stericycle aggregates and tracks recall data from a variety of sources including the FDA, the USDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the National Highway and Transportation Administration. The full Q4 2018 Recall Index is available at

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