Independent researchers say 22 out of the country’s top 26 grocery chains fail when it comes to warning the public about food recalls. Among those on the fail list are Walmart and Aldi.

Consumers have to struggle to stay updated on food recalls with the lack of effort on the part of retailers proving to be a big reason the public is in the dark, according to a report released today by officials with the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund. The epic fail on the part of the grocery industry is particularly unacceptable because of all of the technology and data processing in place.

“Supermarkets should be our best recall notification system, but instead, we found that shoppers must go on a nearly impossible scavenger hunt to learn if they’ve purchased contaminated food,” according to a statement from Adam Garber of the said U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

“Stores already use modern technology to track customers, place products, and target us with ads. There’s no reason why they can’t also keep us healthy.”

The non-profit, non-partisan research organization assessed supermarkets on publicly available information about whether they tell customers about recall policies, in-store notification, and direct customer notification. Findings in the 29-page report include:

  • 22 out of 26 stores failed to adequately inform the public about recall notification efforts, how to sign up for direct notifications, or where to find in-store postings. Only Harris Teeter, Kroger, Smith’s and Target received a passing grade.
  • 58 percent of stores reported some program to directly notify consumers about recalls through email or phone. Of those 15 stores, only eight made it clear how customers could participate, how the system works, or what information is included in warnings.
  • Not a single store provided information online about whether recall notices are posted at  customer service desks, checkout counters, or store shelves.

The researchers say they know there might be programs in place that are not described in the public arena, but they also say retailers would not respond to requests for information about food safety recall measures.

“. . . most declined to answer the survey — and the few that did only responded to a handful of questions,” according to the PIRG report. That lack of transparency was surprising given the potentially dangerous impacts on customers of stores that consider themselves integral parts of so many American communities.”

The report cites a Salmonella outbreak traced to beef that sickened people for months and involved a 12-million pound recall. A similar if not identical scenario has played out repeatedly, according to the PIRG researchers, even though public health agencies issue warnings that are publicized by media outlets. 

Grocery retailers are in a unique position — at the final point in the supply chain before the customer takes possession of food — and therefore have the opportunity to have a powerful impact on public health.

“They might not be responsible for the recall, but they can make a difference. We look forward to seeing improved transparency about recall notification efforts and improved programs,” according to a statement from the PIRG Education Fund’s Dylan Robb.

U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.