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How much do you know about voluntary food recalls?

When it comes to the number of people affected by food-borne illnesses here in the U.S., the figures are rather shocking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 48 million people a year will develop some sort of food poisoning with roughly 128,000 requiring hospitalization and 3,000 losing their lives.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does its best to monitor the nation's food supply, the fact remains that the agency has only about 1,100 inspectors to cover close to 167,000 domestic factories/farms and 421,000 foreign factories/farms.

Accordingly, the FDA relies to a considerable degree on individual food manufacturers to alert them to any problems and institute a voluntary recall of any affected food products.

How are these voluntary recalls initiated?

According to experts, food producers may learn of a potential problem through their own internal channels and alert the FDA, or vice versa. Similarly, state inspectors may suspect a food poisoning trend and contact the CDC, which in turn will work to identify any such trends, and alert both the food producer and the FDA.

What does the FDA do in the event a food producer wants to initiate a voluntary recall?

Firstly, the FDA will evaluate the food safety threat posed to the public, classifying it as a Class I recall, Class II recall or Class III recall. To put this scale in perspective, food products classified as a Class I recall are those that pose a reasonable probability of serious injury or death if consumed, while food products classified as a Class III recall will likely cause no adverse health consequences if consumed.

Once the threat level is assessed, the FDA will typically work alongside the food producer to ensure that the necessary remedial actions are taken (i.e., product is taken off shelves, contaminated ingredients removed, workstations cleaned, etc.) and alert the public as needed.

What happens if the food producer fails to take the necessary actions?

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, the FDA can enforce mandatory recalls and/or shut down manufacturing until such time as the threat to public safety is rectified.

If you or a family member has suffered unnecessarily because of a tainted food product or other dangerous product, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more your options as soon as possible.

Source: Fox 2 Now, "Clarified: What does a food recall do?" Aug. 26, 2014

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