What are the Most Common Reasons for a Food Recall?

Marisa O'Connor

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.

A Salmonella bacterium, a common cause of food poisoning.
A Salmonella bacterium, a common cause of food poisoning.

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.

Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.
Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.

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.

Some foreign substances that find their way into packaged food may present choking hazards.
Some foreign substances that find their way into packaged food may present choking hazards.

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Discussion Comments


I foster at least a dozen cats and dogs all the time, and I'm always keeping an eye out for potential pet food recalls. I remember the major Blue Buffalo and Natural Balance dog food recalls very well, because I had just bought several large bags of each when the recalls were announced. Both companies have since fixed the problems and I have no problem buying new pet food from either of them.

I also remember a cat food recall that started when a batch tested positive for botulism. It was a packaging problem more than a food quality problem, however. I remember the brand stayed off the shelves for a while after the recall, then the company changed its name.


One of the other reasons for a food recall can be faulty labeling. I remember several major food recalls were triggered by the undisclosed use of ingredients like nuts or dairy products or artificial sweeteners. The food was perfectly safe for people who didn't have sensitivities to those ingredients, but the manufacturers and grocery stores couldn't risk having someone die from an allergic reaction because they didn't see the offending ingredient listed on the package.

I remember seeing new labels that mentioned a product being made on equipment that also processed tree nuts or other possible allergens.

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