2015 is One of the Worst Years for Food Recalls
By David Carnes, Staff Writer
2015 is starting to look like one of the worst years for food safety in a long time.
- The most recent major recall occurred on April 20 when Blue Bell Ice Cream, a major manufacturer of frozen sweets, recalled 100 percent of its products due to potential contamination from the listeria bacteria, one of the leading causes of food poisoning deaths in the United States.
- Amy’s Kitchen recalled 74,000 cases of organic food products.
- Sabra Dipping Co. recalled 30,000 cases of hummus.
- In March, Kraft Foods recalled 242,000 boxes of macaroni and choose due to possible metal contamination, an incident that represents only the most prominent of several metal-related recalls that have occurred so far this year.
Other dangerous contaminants include food products that are harmless to most consumers, but can kill consumers with special allergies who don’t realize that the product contains the allergen. The problem is compounded for certain kinds of foods such as spices, because spices purchased by food manufacturers for use in other foods, resulting in dozens of interlocking food recalls when the contamination is finally discovered.
A recent example of this phenomenon began in December 2014 and continues to this day – the discovery of unlabelled peanut protein in ground cumin resulted in a chain reaction of 35 product recalls.
The FDA Grows Teeth
As frightening as these recalls may seem, to some extent they reflect positive trends in the U.S. food manufacturing industry because they indicate that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is exercising its new authority to enforce mandatory food recalls and quarantine dangerous foods products.
The FDA is also modernizing its regulations, raising concerns in the food industry that overzealous regulatory enforcement by Washington bureaucrats will increase food manufacturers’ cost of doing business.
Why It’s Worth It
Despite the burdens of regulation, however, experience teaches that the benefits of food safety far outweigh its burdens. Stringent regulations and its associated enforcement costs (including personal injury judgments) have largely avoided some of the overseas calamities that Americans read about in newspapers rather than experience first-hand. The 2008 Chinese milk scandal, for example, caused the hospitalization of over 50,000 infants with excruciatingly painful kidney stones when milk and baby formula were intentionally contaminated with melamine for business reasons.
The Road Ahead
Food recalls and encyclopedic safety regulations can only take us so far, because once a product is on the market it will be consumed by a certain number of people regardless of how vigorously a recall is enforced. In tandem with regulatory reform, we need to be beefing up inspections and deterring the distribution of contaminated food by instituting and enforcing harsh criminal penalties against food industry executives who play Russian roulette with the lives of American consumers.