For a new report, Food for thought: Are your groceries safe?, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund surveyed 50 of the largest grocery and convenience store chains nationwide on how they notify customers about recalls. They also talked to industry experts about what needs to change to improve both communication and public safety.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog Team has observed that while many stores quickly notify customers of recalls one way or another, they are not required to, and their practices are neither uniform nor always timely.

“We need to do a better job on the easy part — warning consumers what could make them sick,” said Teresa Murray, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s consumer watchdog. “It’s horrifying that eating contaminated chocolate, fruit or salad could make you deathly ill, but it’s even worse when you realize that some food poisoning could easily be prevented with better public awareness.

Some of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s findings:

  • Only half of the retailers said they notify customers by phone, text or email within one business day.
  • One-third of the retailers put the responsibility on customers to check the store’s website or social media accounts for recall notices.
  • Federal law requires more robust notifications — including in-store signs  — under an 11-year-old law, but the guidelines are neither finalized nor regularly enforced.  
  • Utilizing technology better is a tactic the food industry association supports and could help significantly.

“We’ve been averaging a half-dozen food recalls a week for the last five years. That’s obviously way too many,” Murray said. ”This country needs to improve its food production process to reduce the need for recalls in the first place. But that’s the difficult part. So, for now, the best solution is to make sure grocery shoppers get the timely information they need to stay healthy.”

The report also includes tips for consumers on steps they can take to better track food recalls.

The full report can be found here.

About U.S. PIRG
U.S. PIRG 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.

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