Editor’s note: This story, originally posted March 12, 2019, at 5:45 p.m. EDT, has been updated throughout to include comments from the company.
The parent company of Pillsbury posted a recall notice on its website today (March 12), four days after notifying some grocery chains that certain lots of Pillsbury flour in 5-pound bags might be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.
Hometown Food Co. Inc. responded to questions from Food Safety News regarding the recall and circumstances related to it late this evening, but left several unanswered. The email response did not include a signature line or any other information to identify who at the company was providing the comments. The email did not reveal what specific distributors and retailers received the recalled flour. The company has not reported how many individual bags of flour are under recall.
“Random testing found traces of salmonella in one bag of Pillsbury 5lb Unbleached flour. Out of precaution, Hometown Food Company issued a national recall of approximately 12,158 cases of Pillsbury 5lb Unbleached flour due to the potential for possible salmonella contamination,” according to the email sent from a general inquiry address at Hometown Food Co.
The message from the company said it notified retailers and distributors about recalled flour “within 24 hours of determining a recall was warranted. . .” adding that it intentionally did not post the recall on its public website until it had notified businesses.
None of Hometown Food’s baking mixes are affected by the recall, according to the company’s statement to Food Safety News, because they “are made at a different facility from our flour.” However, the statement did not answer the question of whether any of the flour produced at the implicated facility was actually used in baking mixes or other productss.
“The flour manufacturing facility has a comprehensive sanitation and monitoring program to ensure integrity of the product during manufacturing. Our facilities are certified annually through a GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification body and are in compliance with all FDA Laws and regulations including the Food Safety Modernization Act,” according to the Hometown Food Co. statement.
As with its recall notice, Hometown Food’s statement urged consumers to follow proper food handling practices with flour because it is a raw agricultural product, and therefore carries a risk of foodborne illness.
“The industry has ongoing work to determine a strategy for how they will proceed with non-ready-to-eat products like flour that are known by industry and the FDA to have potential risk when raw and uncooked,” according to the Hometown Food statement. “We would like to remind the public that wheat is an agricultural product and flour is made with wheat that is grown outdoors where bacteria may be present. Flour should never be eaten raw or in a dough/batter, as we state on our package.”
Questions left unanswered by Hometown Food’s statement include:
- Can you provide a list of the retailer chains and other distributors that received the recalled flour? If not, why?
- Why didn’t Hometown Food Co. or Pillsbury provide the FDA with the recall notice on March 8?
- Why wasn’t the recall notice posted on the Hometown websites as soon as the recall was initiated?
- Was any of the recalled flour used in other Hometown or Pillsbury products, including but not limited to baking mixes, etc.?
- Did Hometown/Pillsbury provide any flour from the same production run to other trading partners to be used in their products or packaged under their own brands.
- What is Hometown/Pillsbury doing in regard to investigating and mitigating the potential contamination (suspended production lines or facility, product/environmental tests, etc.)?
A spokesperson from the Office of Regulatory Affairs at the Food and Drug Administration told Food Safety News on the afternoon of March 12 that the agency had not yet posted the Hometown Food Co. recall notice on its website because the company had not provided “a public recall announcement.” The company’s email statement said its officials had provided FDA with “a letter in reference to the recall.”
On March 8, at least three retail chains, Publix, Winn-Dixie, and Meijer, posted their own recall notices for the iconic baking product. The Pillsbury Co. did not appear to have the recall information on its website as of 5 p.m. EDT today (March 12). The notice on Hometown Food Co. Inc., which bought Pillsbury from the J.M. Smucker Co. in September 2018, is dated March 8 but was not available on the company’s website until today.
“FDA has been in communication with Hometown Food Co. regarding this recall from its initiation on March 8, 2019. Should Hometown Food Co. share a copy of a public recall announcement with FDA, FDA will post it to our website,” a spokesperson for the agency’s Office of Regulatory Affairs told Food Safety News this afternoon.
None of the individual grocery store chains’ recall notices are available on the FDA website. The agency did not respond to a question about whether any retailers have notified FDA about the flour recall.
In a Tweet earlier today, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, said: “FDA must protect consumers and bring clarity to this situation by immediately posting a recall notice.”
The recall posted on the Hometown Food Co. website states:
“Please be advised the Hometown Food Company initiated a limited, voluntary retail-level recall on two specific lot codes of its Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose 5 lb Flour (UPC 51500-22241) because it may be contaminated with Salmonella. Only Best If Used By Dates APR 19 2020 and APR 20 2020 are impacted.
The key symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and sometimes vomiting.
Roughly 12,245 cases of impacted Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose Flour product were distributed through a limited number of retailers and distributors nationwide. The only product lots affected by the recall are as follows:
Case Item Code
UPC Item Code
Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 5Lb
0 5150022241 3
0 5150022241 6
APR 19 2020
Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 5Lb
0 5150022241 3
0 5150022241 6
APR 20 2020
Other Best If Used By Dates and Lot Codes are not affected by this recall.
There have been no reports of any illnesses associated with this recall. The product is being recalled out of an abundance of caution. This voluntary recall is being made with the full knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Flour is made from wheat that is minimally processed. Flour should not be considered a ready-to-eat product. It is an ingredient for baked, fried, and cooked products and these heating processes ensure the safety of flour with proper handling. All surfaces and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or uncooked dough or batter. Consumers should wash their hands after handling flour or uncooked dough or batter. Consumers should not eat uncooked dough or batter made with raw flour. If you think you became sick from food containing flour as an ingredient, please call your healthcare provider.
Please check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased. Consumers should not consume the recalled product.
We apologize for the inconvenience this caused and are offering replacement coupons for your product. Please call our 800 number (1-800-767-4466). We remain committed to producing the high-quality products you expect.
Flour in an unwanted spotlight
The potential food safety dangers of flour have been in the spotlight in the past couple of years. An E. coli outbreak documented by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sickened people across 24 states from Dec. 21, 2015, to Sept. 5, 2016. Flour recalls posted on the FDA website since May 2016 include:
Reason / Problem
|Organic Coconut Flour
|May contain Salmonella
|King Arthur Flour Company
|Golden Temple®, Swad®, and Maya®
|Potential presence of Escherichia coli O121 (E. coli O121)
|Smucker Foods of Canada Corp.
|The Baker’s Scoop HEB
|Whole wheat flour
|Possible foreign matter
|Morrison Milling Company
|Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens
|Gold Medal, Wondra, and Signature Kitchens
|E. coli O121
|Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, Signature Kitchens
Advice for consumers
FDA offers these tips for safe food handling of flour:
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products.
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
- Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.
Public health information for consumers
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled flour and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized.
Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.
It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.
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