I tend not to get quoted much by Fox News – so, when it happens, well, I must have said something:
“The number of recalls have actually gone up in recent years,” says Bill Marler, Managing Partner of Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm.
The main reason for the uptick is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been pouring money into state labs to do random food testing.
Marler says the Blue Bell Creameries recall back in February was detected by a random test by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
“They just went in and randomly grabbed a product and tested it,” he says.
The ice cream manufacturer issued a recall after some of their frozen treats tested positive for listeria—which causes the potentially life-threatening infection Listeriosis, which can be deadly for pregnant women and people with a weak immune system. Three people died and a total of 10 people were hospitalized as a result.
Marler says he thinks the more recalls, the better actually.
“It’s not a bad thing that we’re seeing more recalls. It’s a positive thing really,” he adds. “I know it’s concerning for consumers, but companies respond quickly when there’s a recall, they’re losing a lot of money and taking products off the shelves and that’s when we start seeing changes.”
Marler says if you think back to the 1990s, there was literally a recall a week for hamburger meat.
“From 1993-2003, 90% of my law firm was linked to E. coli from hamburger meat and now it’s down to 0% because companies responded,” he says.
The most famous outbreak, which has been referred to as the “Pearl Harbor for the food game,” was the Jack in the Box outbreak of E. coli in 1993.
Over 73 different Jack in the Box locations were linked to the outbreak, which infected over 700 people in four states and led to four deaths.
“If you look at the statistics today, E. coli dropped like a stone in the early 2000s and it has continued as a downward trend,” says Marler, who is keeping a close eye on the recent E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants.
“They’re organic and natural but it doesn’t mean that they’re safer,” he says. “People have this magical way of thinking today, that if it’s local then ‘magically’ the food will be safer, but that’s not realistic or true.”
Chipotle closed 43 of its restaurants in Washington and Oregon “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a company statement. And, so far 39 people have been sickened and 14 people have been hospitalized.
Marler says the good news is that when a local farm or manufacturer does have an outbreak, the impact will be smaller and affect less people.
“We’re getting product off the shelves faster now,” he adds.