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Food Recalls: What You Need to Know

March 13, 2013
Jars of honey, jam and pickles display for sale on a rustic table at an outdoor market.

"FOOD RECALL" — two words with immediate consequences. Every day, food products are recalled for a variety of reasons. Here in Georgia, recalls can impact our state’s food distribution system from the wholesale level right down to the consumer.

At the Georgia Department of Agriculture, our Food Safety Division administers state rules and regulations to help ensure product recalls are addressed quickly and efficiently. In fiscal year 2012, 114 food recalls directly impacted consumers across the state. Since recalls happen roughly once every few days, what exactly does this mean for you?

Learn Classes of Recall

It is important to know not all recalls are the same. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture outline 3 classifications in a tiered system.

  • Class I — The most serious situation, in which a consumer faces “reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.” Examples of Class I recalls include those involving foodborne pathogens and foods containing allergens not specifically listed on the ingredient label.
  • Class II — Still considered serious but less so than a Class I recall. Class II signals that “use of, or exposure to, a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences,” and the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote. If a product were adulterated with hard or sharp foreign objects (plastic, metal or glass) during the processing or packaging phase, it would merit a Class II recall.
  • Class III — The least serious recall, in which “use of, or exposure to, this violative product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.” When a product is off-color or off-taste, for instance, it may be deemed unfit for consumption, even if the food does not pose a health hazard.

How to Know If a Recall Affects You

Check the FDA and USDA websites for recall news, and look at your product labels. When those agencies announce a recall, they list the product/brand name, lot codes, expiration dates and product photos so that you can easily identify unsafe foods. If you're unsure about a product's safety and don't see the food listed in a recall, contact either the product manufacturer or the store you bought the food from.

When the Food Safety Division gets notice of a recall, we contact partner agencies across Georgia to help spread the word, and GDA Food Safety Inspectors check facilities where the product could be found, such as warehouses or grocery stores. We also post recall updates you can follow on Twitter, and GDA Food Safety officials are on hand to help answer your questions and receive consumer complaints. Our adage is, “When in doubt, throw it out!"

Photo Courtesy Georgia Department of Economic Development

Jessica Holthaus, Recall Outreach Specialist for the Georgia Department of Agriculture's  Food Safety Division

About the Author

Jessica Holthaus is a Georgia transplant, originally hailing from Long Island, New York. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Hood College in Frederick, Md., in 2005 and has worked in a variety of communications and outreach settings throughout her career. She began with the Georgia Department of Agriculture in 2010 in the Public Affairs office and recently made the switch to the Food Safety Division under a recall strategy grant. Follow her and the Food Safety Division on Twitter @GDAFoodSafety.

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