Everyone who tracks food recalls knows they are an unpredictable and erratic occurrence. But even given that reality, food recalls during the past 30 days or so have been in a weird space.
Maybe the federal government’s “all hands on deck” response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not had anything to do with it, but the pace of food recalls seems to be a little off during the same period of time.
Consider for example that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) did not recall any meat, poultry, egg products, or catfish between Feb. 8 and April 10.
The FSIS announced two recalls on April 10 — 130,763 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken bowl products and 42,587 pounds of raw pork trimmings. Some of the Conagra Brands chicken bowls had small rocks in them, The raw pork from Jowett Farms Corp. in Canada was not made available for import re-inspection.
But that’s been it for FSIS during the period when the federal government has been fixated on COVID-19, also referred to as coronavirus. And putting aside recalls for undeclared allergens, the other 80 percent of the food supply, which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration has seen just eight pathogen-related food safety recalls during the fixation period.
And the timing on some of these is confusing. Since mid-March, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA have been tracking an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes linked to enoki mushrooms grown in South Korea.
It’s a deadly outbreak involving 36 cases in 17 states. It’s killed four people and required hospitalization for 30, or 83 percent, of the victims. And just yesterday, three more recalls of enoki mushrooms from Korea were posted on the FDA recall website for Sun Hong Foods Inc., Guan’s Mushroom Co., and H&C Food Inc.
Here’s what was confusing. The FDA publish date for all three was April 14, 2020. Yet, the company announcement date for Sun Hong’s recall was March 9; for Guan’s Mushroom it was March 23, 2020; and for H&C Food it was April 7.
Maybe it’s a good thing because they are catching up, but delaying information about an outbreak involving a pathogen with a really high fatality rate seems more than a little off for the FDA.
Tuesday’s recalls by three different companies of the same imported mushrooms depicted the risk very differently. Sun Hong Foods Inc. made the link to the deadly outbreak. “We are aware that ill persons who may have consumed the product under investigation,” Sun Hong’s recall notice said. It said samples of its mushrooms taken by the State of Michigan tested positive for Listeria.
Guan’s Mushroom Co. said its product samples were found positive for Listeria by the State of California but said no illnesses have been reported to date “with this problem.”
H&C said: “No illnesses related to products distributed by H&C Foods have been reported to date” without making any connection to the outbreak.
FDA has posted five other pathogen-related during the period when “stay-at-home” orders have been in place. These included:
- Whole Capelin Fish Pet Treats for possible Clostridium botulinum;
- Organic Kudzu Root Herbal Supplement for Salmonella contamination;
- Cooked butterfly Tail on Whiteleg for possible Vibrio contamination;
- Red Clover Sprouts, Sprout Salad, Mixed Greens Spring Salad for E. coli O103; and
- Frozen blackberries and frozen berry medley for Norovirus.