Stericycle: Recalls for Organic Food Continue to Increase

Stericycle: Recalls for Organic Food Continue to Increase
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August 20, 2015

An analysis of food recall data shows that the number of recalls related to organic food is increasing.

Using information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consulting company Stericycle found that organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, an increase from 2 percent last year, reports the New York Times.

The increase is an even bigger jump from 2012 and 2013 when only 1 percent of total recalled food was organic.

Food products are recalled for a number of reasons, some less serious than others. The majority of recalls stem from food products containing allergens that aren't declared on the label.

Late last year, cumin powder somehow became contaminated with peanut proteins, which set off more than six months of recalls that affected 100 brands and nearly 800 products because an allergy warning was not listed on the products' labels.

Baked goods are also commonly recalled for undeclared allergens like wheat, egg, or dairy.

The Stericycle report, however, found that the majority of organic food recalls were due to bacterial contamination.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, told the Times,

"What's striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label," Mr. Pollack said. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it."

Listeria, salmonella, and E. coli illnesses can vary in severity, with some healthy people not even experiencing symptoms, while those with weakened immune systems could find themselves in the hospital with serious infections. Listeria can also cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

Sprouts, nuts and chicken are common food products recalled for bacteria contamination.

The organic food industry isn't pleased with Stericycle's analysis.

With the rise in organic food sales, an increase in recalls is to be expected, Gwendolyn Wyard, senior director of regulatory and technical affairs at the Organic Trade Association, told the Times. An analysis by the group looked at percentage out of total retail sale, which brings down the number to 4.9 percent.

Stericycle also looks at each individual unit affected. About 500,000 units of organic spinach was recalled for possible listeria contamination, but the trade associations looks at it as one recall.

Regardless of how a food is farmed, conventional or organic, all food products are at risk of a recall. To limit exposure to foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria, food should be cooled to temperatures that don't encourage bacteria growth (As we saw with the Blue Bell recall, listeria, unfortunately, can survive in freezing temperatures.) and cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.