It happens all the time: a seemingly out-of-the-blue case of tummy trouble turns into a rash of illnesses linked to a specific restaurant, product, or manufacturer. The producer issues a product recall, and some individuals are compensated for their ordeal. This is the gist of what most Americans understand about the food product recall process.
There are other subtleties to food recalls, however, and they arise more often than you might think. In fact, there have already been seven new recalls issued in the first seven weeks of 2017 (yes, that’s roughly one per week!). Whether they’re due to bacterial or chemical contamination, misbranding/mislabeling, a failure to include allergen information, or other concerns, food recalls in the U.S. are serious business for both companies and consumers.
Product Liability and the Legal Ramifications of Food Recalls
Protecting the health and safety of consumers is the most important responsibility of food sellers and producers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require all companies and products to abide by the food law and policy they set. However, these federal agencies do not have the funding or personnel to adequately inspect food production facilities. So, failures in food safety are usually discovery when people get sick.
Under recent directives by the Trump Administration food safety inspections are being restricted or discontinued completely because of a misguided belief by the new president that government regulations are unduly burdensome to industry. This makes civil lawsuits even more important in the fight for food safety.
Sometimes responsible companies will issue their own voluntary recall in an attempt to prevent consumer harm when they discover a food safety problem.
When there is a major outbreak of food-borne illness as a result of a food safety failure, the CDC gets involved to track cases. In more local cases, the local health department will investigate and do testing of the food involved for pathogens and try to match them with pathogens in sick patients to establish which foods sickened them. Many pathogens have latency periods of a few days or even weeks so it is not possible to establish which food caused the illness just by what was eaten most recently.
Lawyers handling food poisoning cases must match these pathogens to prove a legal case against the provider or producer of the food. When the attorneys in our firm are investigating a food poisoning case we get the health department records to try to establish this causal connection. In court, we need an expert witness in this field to testify that a certain food caused the illness of death. Just the fact that someone ate a certain food and then got sick hours or a day later does not prove the causation.
Below are several of the most recent food recalls issued in the United States. Lists of specific items affected by each of the following recalls can be found on either the Food and Drug Administration’s product safety site or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Website.
1. Bee International Plastic Heart Tubes with Chocolate Lentils
February 20, 2017
The Chula Vista, CA company Bee International, Inc., recently issued a recall of Plastic Heart Tubes with Chocolate Lentils due to a failure to indicate that they may contain a particular milk protein allergen (which could cause a life-threatening allergic reaction in susceptible consumers).
The issue has been attributed to a breakdown during production and packaging, during which the milk protein in question may have been introduced. The product is packaged in a 1.7oz tube of clear plastic with a heart-shaped lid topper, and affected units are marked with a “best before” date of April 2019.1
2. Guggisberg Cheese (and Cheese-Containing Gift Boxes)
February 17, 2017
The Schlabach branch of Dutch Valley Food Distributors has issued a recall on Guggisberg cheese products as a result of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The company’s supplier, Deutsch Kase Haus, alerted Dutch Valley Food Distributors to the potential contamination on February 15, and the voluntary recall was promptly issued. There have been no reported illnesses.
Affected items include a variety of flavors and sizes of Guggisberg cheese products, as well as a number of cheese-containing gift boxes and baskets, including the “Cheese Lover’s Box,” “Ultimate Amish Sampler Box,” and “Holiday Crowd Pleaser Basket.” 2
3. Century Packing Corp. Chicken Sausage Products
February 15, 2017
A Century Packing Corp. facility in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, issued a class III recall of nearly a million pounds of their chicken sausage products as a result of a misbranding/mislabeling issue. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) unit of the USDA, the chicken sausages were sold without the required label to indicate that the products contained monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The products affected were produced between January 1, 2015, and February 13, 2017, and include some items from brands such as Great Value, Econo Mini, Sedano’s, and Carmela Foods.3
4. Taylor Farms Chicken and Pork Salad Products
February 11, 2017
Two different Taylor Farms facilities (one in Dallas, Texas, the other in Tracy, California) issued a class I recall for roughly 6,630 pounds of chicken and pork salad products. According to the USDA FSIS, certain products manufactured between February 6 and February 9, 2017, may have been contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
The problem is attributed to Sargento Foods, Inc., cheese products that were used in the recalled Taylor Farms products, including certain packages of their “Signature Café Southwest Style Salad with Chicken” and certain packages of their “H-E-B Shake Rattle & Bowl Rowdy Ranch Hand” salad with pork.4
5. Atlas Meat Company Pork Products
January 25, 2017
Fort Collins, Colorado’s Atlas Meat Company was forced to recall over 2,500 pounds of products containing their pork sausage as a result of a misbranding error. The USDA FSIS determined that products manufactured between October 12, 2016, and January 23, 2017, may contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which was not indicated on the packaging.
Items affected by the recall include certain sizes of vacuum-sealed or butcher paper-wrapped packages of their Pork Breakfast Sausage and Pork Italian Sausage. As of the time of the recall, neither Atlas Meat Company nor the FSIS were aware of any confirmed reports of related illnesses or adverse reactions.5
6. Mountain View Packaging, LLC, Chicken Products
January 19, 2017
After inspection by the USDA FSIS, a recall was issued by Mountain View Packaging, LLC, of Boise, Idaho, for just over 1,000 pounds of chicken products. According to the FSIS, the products contained allergens like wheat, egg, and milk, which were not declared on the product labeling. As of the date of the recall, there were no confirmed reports of any illnesses or allergic reactions.
The problem was initially noticed on January 13, 2017, when a customer was scanning the affected products for inventory purposes and noticed that the UPC numbers did not match up with the UPC codes printed on the packaging. The FSIS was informed of the issue four days later.
Specifically, the product recall affects Mountain View Packaging’s “Sweet Chili Chicken Meal Starter” items packaged on either December 23, 2016, or December 30, 2016. The affected packages were marked with a “best by” date of May 17, 2018.6
7. Stauffer’s Animal Crackers
January 18, 2017
D.F. Stauffer Biscuit Co., Inc., issued a voluntary recall for 32 oz. packages of their Original Animal Cracker as a result of possible contamination with milk powder, a allergen that is not marked on the animal cracker packaging. The animal crackers in question—only those marked with a “best by” date of September 7, 2017—may have been packaged with other cookies containing milk powder.
Stauffer’s received multiple customer reports of finding the other, milk powder-containing cookies packaged inside the bags of Original Animal Crackers, which spurred the voluntary recall. Fortunately, no related illnesses or allergic reactions have yet been reported.7
Seeking Legal Assistance in a Food Recall Case
People sickened or killed by contaminated food have legal rights to compensation from food producers or restaurants that served or sold the bad food. These are not accidents. Modern food science and food management and production techniques can insure safe food if proper steps are taken.
Food poisoning illness cases are preventable. Careless companies that put people’s health at risk should be held accountable. The law provides for compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain, suffering and ongoing disability.
To learn more about your rights as the victim of food poisoning contact Saunders & Walker P.A. at 1-800-748-7115 today for a free consultation with a knowledgeable product liability attorney.