What Are the Most Common Reasons for a Food Recall?

A Salmonella bacterium, a common cause of food poisoning.
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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2014
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There are many reasons for a food recall. If there is reason to suspect a health risk at any of the stages of food processing and packaging, a food recall is ordered. The most common reasons for a food recall are microbiological contamination, the presence of foreign substances, and errors in labeling.

Salmonella bacteria contamination is the most common reason for a food recall. This bacteria lives in and is passed from the feces of humans or animals to other people or animals. Out of more than 2,300 types of salmonella, the two most common types are salmonella enteritidis and salmonella typhimurium. These two types of salmonella are responsible for half of all human infections. This bacteria does not affect the taste, appearance, or smell of the food in which it is present.

Salmonella is only one kind of microbiological contamination that is responsible for food recall. Microbiological contamination can be caused by any bacteria living in the food. L. monocytogenes and E. coli are the two most common types of contamination after salmonella. Like salmonella, these bacteria do not affect the food in any noticeable way until after the food is consumed, when the effects are very noticeable and are similar to flu symptoms.


Other foreign substances in food are common reasons for a food recall. Sometimes foreign matter is packaged with or even cooked into food. The most common types of foreign substance recalls are due to the presence of metal, glass, and plastic. These food products are recalled in order to protect the public from choking hazards as well as damage to internal organs. Other types of material that can cause a recall are rubber, plant matter, or animal or insect contamination.

Food recall has increased significantly since 2004 due to errors in labeling allergen information. Mislabeled food products need to be recalled to prevent public health risks. When food products contain nuts, milk, or other substances that a large population is allergic to, it must be made clear on the labels. This makes it easier for people with food allergies to remain informed about what they are digesting and avoid allergic reactions, which can be lethal.

Manufacturing problems are also a common reason for food recall. Manufacturing problems broadly describes a dysfunction in the processing and packaging of food. These problems can include errors in labeling or allowing outside contaminants in the food. Sometimes the packaging of the product is the source of the contamination. Lead and other toxins can leak into foods from the containers in which they are put.


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