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Food Recalls: What They Mean and What You Should Do

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Food recalls can be scary, especially when it seems they occur more and more frequently. Don't panic though. These six easy steps can help ensure your family's safety during a food recall. 

It may seem like food recalls are announced almost every day. Packaged and prepared foods are routinely recalled for undeclared allergens or foreign contaminants. Foods can also be recalled because people fall sick after eating them. In recent years, everything from flour to frozen peas has been at the center of a nationwide recall effort. And whether it's in the freezer section, dry goods, or freshly prepared products, every section of the grocery store can potentially have that little yellow tag stating, "This food has been removed due to recall." So what do you do when you hear the news of a recall?

1. Don't panic.

It's easy to psych yourself out when it seems the news of recalls keeps coming. A flour recall might have you thinking through every wheat-based products you've consumed recently, and it's enough to give anyone a brain-induced stomach ache. Instead, head over to the Food and Drug Administration's recall page to see exactly which products are being recalled. 

2. Find out the reason for the recall.

When a food product is recalled, it's usually for one of three reasons: It might contain a bacteria, an undeclared allergen, or a foreign object. If a food is being recalled due to an undeclared allergen (take peanuts as an example) but nobody in your family has that specific allergy, then feel free to continue eating the product. Though any time it's recalled for a bacteria, such as Listeria or E. coli, or a foreign object, like pieces of metal or plastic, it's definitely unsafe for anyone to consume. 

3. Check your food.

Now that you know what is being recalled and why, it's a good idea to check to make sure you don't have it in your kitchen. A quick glance at the brand name, specific product name, and production date stamp can confirm whether the product is actually part of the recall. 

4. Get rid of recalled products.

If you do happen to have a recalled item, it's recommended you return it to the store where you purchased it. If that's not possible, throwing it away is also an option. When throwing it away, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends placing the product in a closed plastic bag and putting it into a sealed trash can to prevent animals or other people from consuming it.

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5. Clean your kitchen.

If bacteria was the reason for the recall, it's a good idea to give your kitchen a quick clean to ensure food safety when preparing future meals. Be sure to give extra attention to the area where the product was being kept.

6. Be aware of future recalls.

If you're worried about future recalls, the FDA has an email subscription service that will alert you whenever there's a new one announced. This will allow you to be on top of current food safety notices to keep you and your family safe.

The bottom line: Food recalls are common enough it's a good idea to know what you should do when one is announced. Food recalls are both unsettling and reassuring. They're unsettling because we depend on food manufacturers to do a good job producing quality food we can trust. They're also reassuring because it means food safety measures will be improved, and companies will be forced to address any lapses that lead to the recall.