The 5 Scariest Food Recalls of 2016

Food recalls are scary. We see the items splashed on the news and are told to throw them away. Terms like Salmonella and E. coli strike fear in our hearts. And they should.

In 2016 there were a total of 764 food recalls, a 22% increase from the previous year. Undeclared allergens were the reason for over 250 of these recalls—something that is entirely preventable. Milk topped the list with 101 recalls, followed by eggs with 82 recalls, peanuts with 51, and wheat came in with 40 recalls.

Are food recalls really a big deal? In 2009, Peanut Corporation of America recalled 2,000 products from their Georgia and Texas plants due to Salmonella, which caused at least 9 deaths and 600 illnesses. The company shut down, and a number of other companies took significant financial hits.

In 2012, the number of food recalls hit an average of 6 per day before the year was out, affecting 18.4 million products.  In 2015, meat and poultry products alone accounted for 150 recalls, affecting  21 million pounds of food.

Products can be recalled for a variety of reasons: pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, listeria, among others. If a facility tests positive repeatedly for these pathogens, or if the product is not cooked properly, this can prompt a recall. If a product is not labeled properly, especially if it is not declaring allergens as required, it is recalled. Some items are recalled for debris found in the product or a processing defect. Other items may be recalled because of issues with facilities or inspections.

Here are some of the most memorable food recalls from 2016.

Wheat Flour

After several people were reported sick with E. coli, it was connected to wheat flour from General Mills. At least 63 people from 24 states were confirmed to be affected by the strains of E. coli between December 2015 and September 2016 – and 17 people were so sick they required hospitalization. Luckily, no deaths were reported. Approximately 45 tons of wheat flour, and products containing flour, were recalled. Because wheat flour is used in many things, recalls extended to poultry and fish products, brownie mixes, and cookie dough.

Some of the symptoms associated with these strains of E. coli are diarrhea that may be bloody and abdominal cramps. Symptoms generally appear 2 – 8 days after exposure and most will clear up on its own after a week. However, some people will develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that can be life-threatening.

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

CRF Frozen Foods issued a recall for some frozen fruit and vegetable products coming out of their facility in Washington due to Listeria monocytogenes.  Nine illnesses across four different states prompted this recall.  The first was back in 2013.  All nine people were so sick, they required hospitalization.  There was at least one death that can be traced specifically to this outbreak.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are so commonly used that 465 products were recalled – 350 directly related to the recall, plus 98 that contained recalled items as ingredients. About 47 million pounds of ready-to-eat meat and poultry items contained contaminated fruits and vegetables were included in the recall.

Listeria monocytogenes primarily affects elderly, young, pregnant, and immune-compromised individuals. The symptoms include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, and gastro-intestinal issues. Pregnant women who become infected may face a stillbirth, miscarriage, or could pass the infection on to the baby.

Bagged Salads

The Dole processing plant in Springfield, Ohio faced scrutiny in the wake of the recall of bagged salad mixes. In January, Dole issued the recall due to concerns of Listeria monocytogenes. In late 2015 and early 2016, at least 19 people were hospitalized because of this outbreak, and at least one person died.

The recall spanned multiple varieties and brands, and the CDC monitored the outbreak of Listeria through the end of February. At that point, the agency declared that the breakout appeared to be over.

Ready-to-Eat Chicken

If product is not cooked to specific temperatures and stored at certain temperatures, bacteria can grow. National Steak and Poultry knows this first hand. In November, the company ended up having to recall 1.9 million pounds of poultry products, all because the required temperatures were not met. Affected products were supposed to be ready for consumers to eat, but undercooked chicken can easily lead to contamination. Luckily, no illnesses have been confirmed due to this recall.

Frozen Strawberries

One particularly scary recall this year is frozen strawberries. At least 134 people were hospitalized across 9 different states. They were all affected with Hepatitis A that was traced back to frozen strawberries from Egypt. Many of the people got sick after visiting Tropical Smoothie Cafes, but then it was discovered that the contaminated strawberries also went to institutions like schools and restaurants.

The widespread use of the strawberries left officials scrambling to notify potential consumers. If the consumers got a post-exposure shot up to two weeks after infection, they could avoid the disease.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A include yellow eyes or skin, fever, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and dark urine.  Problems may start 14-50 days after exposure and continue for a few weeks or several months.

This case was scary because it included children that ate through the school lunch program. It prompted officials to require food used in the school lunch program to be from the United States or acquire special permission to be used in advance.