What Happens to Recalled Products?


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of turkey products back in August, MainStreet couldn’t help but wonder what the company would do with that much meat.

Turns out, it – and the 185,000 pounds recalled earlier this week – is getting trashed.

“Turkey meat recovered as part of the Aug. 3 and Sept. 11 recalls is being disposed of in landfills designated to accept this organic material,” Mike Martin, director of communications for Cargill, tells MainStreet.

Martin says Cargill recovered approximately 2 million pounds of product involved in the initial recall, while “the vast majority had been consumed.” The company has yet to establish how much of the products involved in its September recall have been recovered.

If this method seems obvious, it’s also fairly standard, according to Mike Rozembajgier, a vice president at ExpertRECALL, a logistics and regulatory compliance firm that helps major companies handle product recalls.

“The goal of a recall is to get the product out of the marketplace with zero chance of re-entry,” Rozembajgier says. He says companies will receive an “authorized method of destruction” from whatever federal agency is overseeing the recall, and while the specifics vary depending on the product and the size of the recall, most items end up junked or incinerated.

However, he adds, there are times when manufacturers are permitted to utilize what is known as a “sustainable disposal of products” and break down the item into smaller parts so the ones that aren’t defective can be reused or recycled.  For instance, manufacturers might hold on to the batteries that have been removed from a laptop with a faulty keyboard.

The persons responsible for disposing of the products also vary. In food recalls, Rozembajgier says, retailers themselves are often instructed to get rid of the product, via the approved method, since these items are perishable and unlikely to hold up during travel.

The FDA, for instance, was asking consumers themselves to dispose of the Jensen farms cantaloupes involved in the recent listeria outbreak in seven states.

Non-perishable products, such as children’s toys or pharmaceutical drugs, conversely, will be returned to a central location so they can be catalogued before the recall is formally lifted.

“This is only going to happen when the agency [overseeing the recall] feels confident a significant amount of the product in question is off the market,” Rozembajgier says.

This doesn’t always happen overnight.

“I’ve seen some companies store their products for a year or more,” he says, adding that food recalls are usually closed out more quickly.

In terms of recalls involving repairs as opposed to straight returns, such as ones on cars or appliances, Rozembajgier says companies either prioritize on a first come, first served basis or by location based on where they already have enough staff in place to handle the fixes.

In the case of a medical recall, those considered at the highest risk will be addressed immediately.

Feel like you’ve been hearing about a recall every other day? Find out why in MainStreet’s look at how recalls are getting worse.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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