A by nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows that food recalls increased 10 percent between 2013 and 2017.
This is based on recall data from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The most dangerous category of meat and poultry recalls increased 83 percent during this time. Overall meat and poultry recalls increased 67 percent.
Recalls of produce and processed foods increased only 2 percent.
The report also shows that recalls haven’t increased steadily year-over-year. There was a spike in overall recalls in 2016, with a decline over the next two years.
More recalls doesn’t necessarily mean that food in America is getting less safe.
“Technological advances have allowed for more rapid analysis of food products,” said , PhD, a professor of microbial food safety at the University of Delaware.
This includes technologies like of foodborne bacteria and other pathogens.
“With WGS, state laboratories and epidemiologists can connect cases of foodborne illness and contamination events faster, and can even make connections between cases that happened years apart in time,” said Kniel.
Data from the also shows that the number of illnesses caused by Salmonella didn’t change much between 2006 and 2017. Illnesses caused by other pathogens even decreased during that time.
, PhD, MPA, an assistant professor of political science at West Virginia University, said the rise in food recalls could also be related to changes in food safety regulations.
He and a colleague looked at the effect of lobbying on federal regulations. They found that business groups were more successful than public interest groups at pushing for changes to regulations.
Their 2015 looked at all federal regulatory agencies, not just the FDA or USDA.
But Haeder said, “It seems quite plausible that business interests in the food chain have consistently lobbied, and were often successful, in obtaining more favorable regulations, such as less oversight and fewer monitoring requirements.”
This could lead to changes in how companies process, package, or ship foods, with a potential to increase the risk of contamination. More lax regulations may also delay companies from finding problems with food products.
Kniel said compared to how much food is produced and consumed in the United States each year, “the level of foodborne illness that occurs is only a small — but important — fraction.”
Still, she said consumers should pay attention to food recalls.
is regularly updated with recalls, both on the website and in its social media feeds.
Haeder said his also raises concerns about the transparency and accountability of how federal regulations change. This is something that advocacy groups like U.S. PIRG are trying to address.
Although no food contamination would be ideal, that’s unlikely to happen. But there’s an upside to recalls.
“One way to look at a recall is that the food safety system is working,” said Kniel, “and the companies are invested in food safety.”