Don’t eat romaine lettuce! Check your freezer for ground beef! Throw out your breakfast cereal!
There have been a number of significant food recalls in the headlines recently — so many that it often feels like there’s a new one each day. In the United States, food recalls are most often due to bacterial contamination from pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella. These bacteria can lead to foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning) and, in rare cases, serious health issues. That’s pretty scary!
What Should I Do If There’s a Food Recall?
So, what should you do if you think you have recalled food items in your home? First, don’t panic. Not all recalls involve people getting sick; some are issued as a precautionary measure. Then, follow these steps:
- Identify the product. Check out the list of recent food recalls to see if the details match your food product (e.g., UPC number, expiration or “use by” date). Food recalls are very specific, so if you don’t have the exact product in the notice, your product is not part of the recall.
- If you have a food item that is being recalled, don’t eat it (or feed it to pets). And, please don’t donate any recalled food.
- Check the recall notice to find out what to do with the food. Typically, consumers will be advised to either return the product to the store of purchase or dispose of the recalled food (the recall notice should provide instructions for proper disposal).
- If you have a recalled food item in your home, clean your refrigerator or any surface that the contaminated food touched. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds after handling recalled food and/or cleaning your refrigerator or other surface areas.
If you ate a product that was recalled for contamination, look out for symptoms of food poisoning. If you have concerns, contact your physician and let them know that you’ve eaten a recalled product.
Food Safety Tips in the Kitchen
While there’s no way to know what’s contaminated by look, feel, or smell, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness. Here are four simple guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help ensure food safety at home:
- Wash your hands and work surfaces with soap and water often. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods and produce at all times — including in your shopping cart, refrigerator, and meal preparation area.
- Ensure that all meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods reach the right internal temperature during cooking to kill harmful bacteria. You can’t tell if food has been cooked safely by looking at its color or texture, so be sure to use a food thermometer.
- Chill. Refrigerate food promptly. Bacteria can multiply rapidly, so refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of cooking (or within one hour if it’s warmer than 90°F outside). Also, keep your refrigerator below 40°F.