Why Food Recalls Are Getting Worse

This may go down as the year of the massive food recall.

One million pounds of Black Angus beef patties were recalled in August after seven people got sick with E. coli. A few months prior to that, romaine lettuce was recalled in 23 states after it sickened 19 people and hospitalized 12, also due to E. coli contamination.And of course, nothing compares to the more than half-billion eggs recalled nationwide this summer due to a salmonella outbreak that made more than 1,000 people ill.

Aside from these, there were plenty of smaller, but significant recalls of everything, from deli meats to chicken nuggets, and yes, more beef.

One by one, the common items that consumers include on their grocery lists each week are being recalled in bulk. In a very real sense, Americans may never be able to look inside their fridge the same way again.

Between July 2009 and September of this year, there were 85 food products recalled by the Food and Drug Administration, which led to 1,850 sicknesses across the country, according to a joint report from several advocacy groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. While these groups do not have statistics from previous years to compare this number to, most food safety experts we spoke with say we have experienced an upward trend in the number of food recalls in recent years.

“Consumers in general are seeing more nationwide recalls on a larger array of products that are affecting them than has occurred in the past,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a nonprofit.

To a large degree, as Waldrop and others note, the increasing number of food recalls is actually a good thing. Government agencies like the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control have improved their ability to spot dangerous food products and act quickly. The CDC, for example, launched a national health network called PulseNet so that labs around the country can collaborate with one another to analyze food-borne diseases and crack down on bad products more quickly.