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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

When is a Recall Not a Recall?

Stephen J. Hedges of the Chicago Tribune has written once again about the dysfunctional relationship between the meat industry, FSIS and consumers in his article this morning, “Meat recall alerts retailers, not consumers.”

The largest meat recall in the nation’s history was bound to reverberate through the food-manufacturing world. So far, four major food manufacturers — ConAgra, General Mills, Heinz and Nestle — have acknowledged that meat involved in the 143 million-pound recall, announced Feb. 17, was used in some of their products. Nestle, General Mills, Heinz and ConAgra have each acknowledged to news organizations that they have recalled products containing beef from the meatpacking company Hallmark/Westland.

However:  But none has taken the usual step of notifying consumers through news releases and warnings on company Web sites.

As Mr. Hedges wrote:  Why the secrecy?

As I said:  "It’s better to fess up and be open and honest with your consumers," said Bill Marler, a lawyer who often sues companies on behalf of food-poisoning victims. "It makes consumers more comfortable with your product, not less comfortable."

So, here is the rub: 
Richard Raymond, the USDA undersecretary for food safety, said USDA regulations prevent the department from disclosing Hallmark/Westland’s customers because such information is considered proprietary. Food safety groups have argued for lifting that restriction, saying it would give consumers more information during recalls, while some food industry groups have opposed it.

So, it is really time to change the rule. Recalls should be real, they should be complete and they should be transparent. The goal should be to protect consumers not a company’s customer list.  Thanks goodness that at least California does it right – See list of where Westland/Hallmark meat went.

  • You guys are great. I really do like reading your blog.

  • I have some sympathy for the food manufacturers, especially if the warning level is precautionary.
    Perhaps the solution is to have levels of recall/warnings with only the highest level requiring a disclosure of customers.
    This might give the producers a real incentive to avoid a high level recall.

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