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Why Are Foods Recalled? What You Need to Know

The short answer from a wellness dietitian

bacteria on lettuce

Q: Why does a food get recalled, and what should I do if I’ve eaten it?

A: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls foods that have been contaminated by bacteria, foreign objects or undisclosed allergens.


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A recall may follow an outbreak of food-borne illness, caused by food-borne pathogens such as salmonella or listeria. It may also follow detection of a contaminant in a plant or facility where food is processed, before it reaches humans or when it is mislabeled.

Recall notices are usually specific, detailing the months in which the product was sold, the locations, the expiration dates and even parts of serial numbers.

You usually know you’ve eaten a contaminated product by the symptoms that emerge after consumption. Some are mild, but allergic reactions to undisclosed dairy, nuts, eggs, gluten or soy can be quite serious. So can reactions to sulfites in those with sensitivity.

Symptoms reported with food recalls include:

  • Gastric distress/diarrhea.
  • Fever.
  • Itchy mouth or throat, skin rash, hives.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Vomiting.
  • Confusion.

If you are pregnant, have a compromised immune system or are very young or very old, contact your doctor’s office if you think you’ve eaten contaminated food. If you believe you’re having an allergic reaction to a food, follow your doctor’s instructions for promptly managing your reaction.

Knowledge is power. To limit future exposure to contaminated foods, sign up for FDA food safety recall alerts at www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ or www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/.

—Registered dietitian Nicole Hopsecger, RD, LD.


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