Salmonella is top reason for recalls

October 8, 2013

By Ireti Adesanya, Mike Waldron and William Lineberry

Salmonella contamination is by far the most common reason for food products to be recalled, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Since 2009, companies have issued about 2,000 product recalls. Salmonella, the bacteria that cause food poisoning, was the reason for at least 570 recalls — more than a quarter of the total.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 40,000 cases of salmonella in the United States every year. Unhygienic workers and unsanitary food processing plants can infect foods with salmonella through unwashed hands and fecal matter from rodents.

The bacteria trigger an infection called salmonellosis, which in turn causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever.

Beef, dairy, chicken and eggs are the common carriers of salmonella. But pistachios were the most recalled item for salmonella contamination, according to the analysis of the FDA data by data journalists at VCU.

Pistachios and salmonella have been linked since 2009, when three companies, including Kroger Co., recalled more than 1 million pounds of the tree nuts. In 2013, pistachio recalls made headlines again when three other companies issued voluntary recalls.

Following the recalls, the FDA announced in July that it was seeking comments, scientific data and information to help the agency conduct a quantitative study. The study will assess the risk of human salmonellosis associated with the consumption of tree nuts like pistachios. It will also look at ways to prevent and control contamination factors. Consumers have until Oct. 16 to submit information about the matter to the Federal Register.

Of the approximately 2,000 product recalls, 84 were for pistachios — and about 20 others were for products that contained pistachios. All of those recalls were for salmonella.

Roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria but problems can occur if this is not properly done or if the processing facility becomes contaminated (possibly from rodents), according to the FDA.

After pistachios, the products most frequently involved in recalls were: cheese, dietary supplements, ice cream, fruit and vegetables, cookies and candy.

Whole Foods Market topped the list of the companies that have issued the most recalls (30) since 2009; the grocery chain’s recalls ranged from fish to cakes. Whole Foods was followed by:

¶ Hospira Inc. (19, for drugs and medical products)

¶ McNeil Consumer Healthcare (15, for Tylenol, Motrin and other medicines)

¶ The Kroger Co. (14, for bread, ice create and other foods)

This article is a “Data Drop brief” — a quick-hit posting based on analysis by students in MASC 644 Computer-Assisted Reporting. This exercise involved downloading an XML file from a government website. The file contained one row for each recall. The students opened the file in Excel and summarized the data by using pivot tables.