Food Safety Act: Five Food Recalls That Rattled the Industry

The Senate’s passage of the Food Safety Act, the most sweeping food-safety law in 70 years has thrown a spotlight on the US food supply. Here are five of the most recent high-profile food safety cases:

1. Eggs

Wright County Egg farms in Galt, Iowa, in early August voluntarily recalled eggs it had distributed in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa because of possible salmonella contamination.

The eggs had been distributed nationwide from both food service and grocery stores under several brand names including Alta Dena Dairy, Cal Egg, Country Eggs, Hidden Villa Ranch, as well as generically sold eggs.

The recall was expanded several times through August to include major retailers such as Albertsons and Ralphs, and brands such as Farm Fresh. At last count, 380 million eggs were recalled.

2. Peanut butter

In December 2009, the FDA ordered the recall of peanut butter traced to ConAgra’s Sylvester, Georgia processing plant after some 370 reported health problems after eating it. The plant produced Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butter, as well as bulk peanut butter sold to restaurants.

Peanut Corp. of America, a bulk peanut butter maker, recalled 21 lots implicated in the outbreak. Grocery store brands weren’t among those causing the problem, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC investigation led to institutions such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes that used King Nut brand peanut butter.

3. Spinach

In August, 2007, fresh bagged spinach was recalled by California grower Metz Fresh LLC after a sample shipped to grocery stores and food service vendors tested positive for contamination. It was the third fresh spinach recall of the year.

In 2006, bagged spinach sold by Dole was implicated in an outbreak. Fresh spinach and bagged salad greens sold by Classic Salads, LLC of Salinas, Calif., were also recalled in summer 2006.

The recalled spinach was sold in smaller bags at grocery stores, and larger bags shipped in cartons to food-service vendors.

Metz Fresh said it was able to track and hold about 90 percent of the more than 8,100 cases of tainted spinach that had shipped.

4. Lettuce

On Oct. 8, 2006, the Nunes Company, Inc., of Salinas, Calif., initiated a voluntary recall of green leaf lettuce distributed under the Foxy brand. The company reported to the US Food and Drug Administration that it initiated the recall because of contamination of water used to irrigate the lettuce plants in the field.

About the same time, Fresh Express, also from Salinas, recalled batches of 3-year-old hearts of romaine salad. The affected salad had the potential to be contaminated.

Hearts of romaine was distributed through retail stores in 19 US states and four Canadian provinces, but the recall was not thought to have mattered much – the salad is highly perishable and was well beyond its expiration date.

5. Beef

In February 2008 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of beef from a California meat company. The recall, which covered Westland Meat’s entire beef output for two years – was enacted because it was found that the company failed to prevent sick animals from entering the food supply.

The recall was extensive, but USDA officials said that the beef posed little hazard to consumers, and most of it had long since been eaten.

The recall followed the release of a video showing employees of a Westland partner, Chino, Calif.-based Hallmark Meat Packing, committing “egregious violations” of federal animal care regulations. On the tape, employees are seen abusing cows before herding them to be slaughtered, according to the Washington Post.

Hallmark neglected to allow federal veterinarians to examine cattle headed for slaughter that were too sick or weak to stand on their own, said then-Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. “Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, [the USDA] has determined them to be unfit for human food, and the company is conducting a recall,” he said in a statement.