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Food Recalls Reached Highest Levels in 2023 Since Pandemic. How is 2024 Shaping Up?

Posted in Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on May 2, 2024

A report from the nonprofit group, U.S. Public Research Interest Group Education Fund, released this month indicated that food recalls in 2023 reached the highest levels since the COVID-19 pandemic.

That year’s data may have seen a boost after a new allergen disclosure was mandated. But Listeria contaminations also played a huge role.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manages food recalls and safety alerts for most of the country’s food supply. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) covers everything else, including meat, poultry, and some egg and fish products.

Curious about how 2024 is shaping up in comparison? Unfortunately, it looks like more of the same.

But first, let’s dive into 2023 data.

2023 Food Recall Data

According to the U.S. Public Research Interest Group Education Fund report, a total of 213 food recalls and alerts were announced in 2023 between the FDA and USDA combined. This data includes both products that were currently on sale (recalls) as well as products no longer on sale but may still be in consumers’ homes (alerts).

This was an 8% jump from 2022 data, with the bulk of the increase coming from USDA recalls. In fact, there was an increase of 31% of USDA recalls in 2023 versus 2022.

Most surprising, however, is that 2023 had the highest number of combined recalls and alerts since 2020.

Contaminated food caused over 1,100 illnesses last year and six deaths. However, since more mild illnesses go unreported, this number is a huge underestimation. The true number of illnesses is likely much higher.

Most Common Food Recalls

The most common food recalls in 2023 were snack items. Foods like cookies and granola bars made up about one in five recalls.

Other commonly recalled foods included beef, cheese, fruit (mostly cantaloup), pet food, poultry, salad and greens soup, supplements, and vegetables.

Most Common Reasons for Food Recalls

The most common recall type may have been due, in part, to a recent inclusion of sesame as a required allergen disclosure in January 2023.

Nearly half (49.3%) of all food recalls in 2023 were due to undeclared allergens on product packaging. Over a third (39%) of those undisclosed allergen recalls were attributed to sesame.

Other common reasons for food recalls in 2023 included Listeria contamination (15%), Salmonella contamination (8.6 %) and uninspected products (6.1%)

How Do 2024 Food Recalls Look So Far?

So, how does the 2024 food recall data shape up so far?

Unfortunately, it is on par with 2023.

In just the first quarter (January through March), there were 71 FDA recalls and 22 USDA recalls/alerts.

So far, Trader Joe’s isn’t looking good with two slots in the top 5 – not including the recent basil recall.

What makes the top 5?

Dairy products, Trader Joe’s Dumplings, ground cinnamon, Trader Joe’s cashews, and Quaker Oats products.

Dairy Products Food Recalls

First, progress was made in the multi-year, multi-state Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in early 2024. Cases dating back to 2014 were linked to Rizo-Lopez Foods queso fresco, cotija cheese, and other dairy products. The FDA investigated the outbreak in 2017 and again in 2021, but a source could not be identified.

Once discovered, the manufacturer voluntarily recalled around 60 dairy products sold across the country.

Retailers like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Walmart were involved, as they used potentially contaminated dairy products in their salads and taco kits.

As of April 9, 2024, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA announced the outbreak was over.

Overall, there were 26 confirmed cases linked to the outbreak across 11 states. There were 23 hospitalizations and two deaths.

Trader Joe’s Dumplings

Up next, is Trader Joe’s Dumplings. A recent recall for Trader Joe’s Dumplings was announced in March 2024. Over 61,000 pounds of Trader Joe’s steamed chicken soup dumplings were voluntarily recalled due to potential contamination with hard plastic from a permanent marker.

The manufacturer, CJ Foods Manufacturing Beaumont Corporation also issued a USDA recall following consumer complaints. Consumers submitted complaints after finding hard pieces of plastic in their dumplings.

No injuries or adverse reactions were reported in connection with this recall.

Ground Cinnamon

Now, ground cinnamon hit the news in late 2023 and early 2024. However, an alert for cinnamon was issued in March, warning consumers about unsafe levels of lead found in six ground cinnamon products. These products were distributed to discount stores, like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, across several states.

The alert was related to last year’s FDA investigation of lead-tainted cinnamon applesauce products that caused over 500 reports of adverse events in children.

Trader Joe’s Cashews

Then, four lots of Trader Joe’s 50% Less Sodium Roasted & Salted Whole Cashews were recalled in March due to potential contamination with the pathogen, Salmonella. This recall came after the manufacturer, Wenders LLC, issued a recall.

The potentially contaminated product was distributed across 16 states. No illnesses were reported in connection with this recall.

Quaker Oats Products

And finally, an expanded list of Quaker Oats products was released in January 2024 following an initial recall in December 2023. Over 20 granola, protein bars, cereal bars, cereals, instant oatmeal products, and snack mixes were recalled.

The potentially contaminated product was distributed across all 50 states. No illnesses were reported in connection with this recall.

Did You Fall Sick After Consuming a Recalled Product?

Foodborne illness is a serious concern. In fact, 48 million Americans each year become sick with foodborne disease, according to the CDC. That is one out of every six people in the United States! And 128,000 illnesses are serious enough to require hospitalization. Sadly, around 3,000 people will die from foodborne infections.

Report Your Illness to Help Others

Food recalls help prevent subsequent foodborne illness by removing potentially dangerous products from the market. If you have fallen ill from a recalled product or a product that may not yet have a recall, reporting your illness can help others.

Retain Packaging for Traceback Investigation

You will want to ensure that no one in your home will accidentally consume a recalled product. However, retaining the packaging, and if possible, a sample could help narrow down the source of a contaminated product. Date codes and other specific product information help to ensure all potentially harmful products are removed from the marketplace.

Get Advice from a Food Poisoning Lawyer

If you have fallen sick from a recalled product, a Food Poisoning Lawyer can help you navigate the legal process. The talented Food Poisoning Lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC can help. Call (833) 330-3663 or click here to email to connect with our compassionate team today.

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)