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Food recalls down since start of COVID-19 pandemic

grocery produce
Posted at 11:53 AM, Jan 06, 2022

Since the arrival of COVID-19, experts say federal regulators have issued far fewer food recalls.

According to James Rogers, the head of food safety at Consumer Reports, regulators have faced several obstacles during the pandemic.

"The CDC does say that we may see a certain number of foodborne illnesses, but there are probably many, many more out there that go unreported because, especially during the pandemic, people were reluctant to go to the doctor," Rogers said.

He added there are likely several factors behind the lower number of food recalls over the last two years.

Recalls are typically issued when consumers report illnesses, food producers discover issues and inspections by regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA find problems with production.

The pandemic has presented fundamental changes and challenges for every source.

"We also have to consider that both the food industry and our regulatory agencies have had some issues with staff. That would include staff that may be in charge of food safety, inspections and testing — both at the regulatory level or at the food producer level themselves," Rogers said. "So, it is possible that they had to divert resources away, and it will not to be able to test and inspect as much food as they usually do."

The biggest food safety threats include undeclared allergies — when an ingredient accidentally makes it into a product that can be dangerous to some people — bacteria and viruses and, finally, foreign objects — pieces of metal, rubber or glass that accidentally get added to food.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, regulatory agencies are using new technology to improve food safety.

"They're really pushing forth an effort to be able to show each step of the way from farm to fork, how that food is manufactured and what might have broken down to allow it to become contaminated," Rogers said.

Anyone who discovers any potential health or safety issues in food products should report those issues directly to the manufacturer and their local health department.