A food recall is a notification to consumers that a particular food may be unsafe to consume. In most cases, the food has been found to contain harmful levels of contaminants such as bacteria, pesticides, or heavy metals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiates a food recall when it believes that the public is at risk. This process typically begins with the manufacturer or distributor notifying the government about the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are responsible for ensuring the safety of the food supply in the United States. The agencies have a number of tools at their disposal to protect consumers, including the ability to mandate recall. The FDA has jurisdiction over all foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. The FSIS (which is is a branch of the USDA) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and properly labeled.

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have the legal authority to mandate a recall however, it’s a power they rarely exercise. Instead, they most often work with manufacturers and retailers in a cooperative effort to maintain food safety. Most recalls are a voluntary action taken by a company to remove a product from the market. The company may issue a press release or contact retailers to pull the product. The FDA and FSIS also post information about recalls on their websites and will convene a committee to make recommendations. If the Recall Committee recommends a recall, the Committee classifies the recall based on the relative health risk. There are three main classes of food recalls: Class I, Class II, and Class III.

Class I – A Class I recall involves a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
Class II – A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
Class III – A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

In addition to determining the class of the recall, the Recall Committee verifies that the company has identified production and distribution information to facilitate the recall. The committee includes representatives from the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Helpful Links:

Food Recalls: What are They and How do They Work?

FSIS Annual Recall Summaries

FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts