Why Are Foods Recalled? What You Need to Know

The Short Answer from a wellness dietitian
Bacteria on a fork

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 caused by salmonella or listeria. Or it may follow detection of a contaminant in a plant where food is processed, before it reaches humans, or mislabeling.

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. Some are mild, but allergic reactions to undisclosed dairy, nuts, eggs, gluten or soy can be quite serious. So can reactions to sulfite in those with sensitivity.

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Symptoms that have been 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/.

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—Wellness dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD,

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