Repeat recall offenders that deserve cautionary ingestion
By Emily Hebert
Reaching for a glass of milk or fresh produce may seem like a healthy choice. But before you pat yourself on the back, take heed: These and other food pyramid mainstays can turn harmful at the drop of a recall. Read on to see if your favorite snack or drink has made serial appearances on the Food and Drug Administration's Most Unwanted list.
2007 marked the year of the Chinese milk scandal-a tragic case in which contaminated milk produced in China was responsible for killing at least six of the region's children. The culprit: toxic levels of melamine, a chemical substance with a high nitrogen content that was added to diluted milk to fool quality-control equipment into believing that nitrogen from protein was present at normal levels. Globally, the deception hit hard as well; authorities from Australia and Asia to Europe and the U.S. withdrew infant formulas, coffee, tea, candies, soup, cheese, biscuits, premade desserts, and chocolate made from the tainted dairy product.
Since the harrowing incident, milk has continued to appear on the Food and Drug Administration's recall list. Just this month, a national supplier of instant nonfat dry milk was responsible for multiple recalls by brands that utilized its salmonella-plagued product. Foods that contain the instant dry milk run the gamut, from hot chocolate mixes and protein drink powders to seasoned popcorn and cake mixes.
2. Red Tomatoes- see why tomatoes can cause illness
The UK has long dealt with mad cow disease, and in February 2008, the U.S. experienced a related scare after a video by the Humane Society depicted a California-based plant preparing "downer" cattle for slaughter. Though meat from nonambulatory cows puts consumers at a higher risk of contracting E. coli, salmonella, and mad cow disease-and is banned under federal law from entering the food supply-employees at the slaughterhouse were shown using inhumane practices to force weak cows to stand so they would pass inspection. In the wake of the leaked video, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of frozen beef. Between 2006 and 2008, there were more than 20 beef recalls in the U.S., with the most recent recall taking place in June: Right before the Fourth of July, the USDA launched a massive recall of E. coli-affected beef from a global producer.
4. Canned Soup- see why canned-soup manufacturers issued recalls
5. Bagged Spinach
Undoubtedly a superfood, packed with a multitude of nourishing vitamins, spinach, when purchased in the convenient prepackaged, salad-ready fashion, may be more harmful than it is healthful: Since 2006, when spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria killed three people and shook consumer confidence in leafy green veggies, Popeye's go-to snack has continued to be plagued by recalls. The most recent occurred in April, when a warning was issued for salmonella-infected spinach sold in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.
6. Smoked Salmon- see how to ensure your salmon is safe
7. Alfalfa Sprouts
Sprouts provide the perfect garnish to a tuna or veggie-packed sandwich, but they are often harbingers of bacteria. The latest recall occurred in April 2009, and the FDA investigation is ongoing. So far six states, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia, have associated illness with salmonella-contaminated sprouts, and more than 30 cases of illness have sprouted.
9. Bottled Water
A study released by the government's General Accounting Office this month revealed that regulation of bottled water (under the FDA's Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) is less strict than the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of tap water (under the Safe Drinking Water Act). Seems that swigging Brita-filtered water from a Nalgene container is a purer way to get your daily H2O requirement than store-bought liquids. During the past five years, several bottled-water recalls have taken place: In 2006, multiple labels were found to contain dangerous levels of bromate (a carcinogen); in 2007, popular mint-flavored waters were found to harbor stomach fluesque B. cereus bacteria; and in 2008, another major brand reported a diluted form of a food-cleaning compound in its product (that same year, a second nationally distributed brand was also recalled because of customer complaints about a strange smell).
10. Cantaloupe- see why the fruit has been recalled in several states
Dishonorable Mention: Carrot Juice
Though the incidence of food-borne botulism (a rare, life-threatening paralytic illness caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum) is extremely low, in 2006 a U.S.-based distributor's bottles of carrot juice became contaminated by the bacteria, causing the FDA to issue a countrywide recall of the product, which was also sold in Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong. The warning did not come soon enough for some, however-four people in the U.S. were reported hospitalized with respiratory failure and descending paralysis from the carrot concoction, with two similar cases reported in Canada. Even with the aid of a doctor-administered botulinum antitoxin, full recovery from botulism often takes months-a large price to pay for trying to drink healthfully.