By Elisa Zied
May 23, 2014
Food Recalls: How You Can Stay Safe 37730

Just as you're planning to celebrate with family and friends this Memorial Day weekend, the Food and Drug Administration has reported recalls of a variety of foods. As reported by CNN, in just the last week everything from raw clover sprouts, hummus and dip products, walnuts and ground beef products have been recalled because they've been linked with dangerous bacteria that have made—or could make—some people very sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the agency responsible for tracking the occurrence of foodborne disease and investigating outbreaks—each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases caused by bacteria,  parasites and viruses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also monitors recalls of meat and poultry products produced by federally inspected establishments.

On the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts for FDA-regulated products are posted. To find out about such recalls, you can sign up here to receive email alerts.

Here's some information about a few of the recent recalls you likely want to know about:

Raw clover sprouts: According to the CDC announcement on May 22, 2014, seven confirmed and three probable cases of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O121 infection have been reported in Idaho and Washington. Some types of STEC frequently cause severe disease, including bloody diarrhea and one type of kidney failure. Nine out of ten ill persons reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before becoming ill. Preliminary traceback investigations indicate that the likely source of the outbreak are contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho. The Washington State Department of Health and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare are advising people not to eat raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts. To protect yourself against illness from sprouts, check out Sprouts: What You Should Know.

Walnuts: According to a company press release issued on May 21, 2014, Sherman Produce based in St. Louis voluntarily recalled 241 cases of bulk walnuts packaged in 25 lb bulk cardboard boxes and Schnucks brand 10 oz trays with UPC 00338390032 with best by dates 03/15 and 04/15. According to the company, the walnuts were recalled because of their potential contamination with listeria monocytogenes—an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Short-term symptoms in healthy people can include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Pregnant women contaminated by listeria monocytogenes can experience miscarriage and stillbirth. The recalled products were sold to retailers in Missouri and Illinois from March to May 2014. No illnesses have been reported to date and consumers who have purchased these walnuts are urged not to consume them. Instead, they are advised to dispose of them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Hummus and dip products: According to a press release issued on May 19, 2014, Prepared Foods manufacturer, Lansal, Inc. (also known as Hot Mama's Foods) announced a voluntary recall of about 14,860 pounds of hummus and dip products due to concerns about possible contamination with listeria monocytogenes. Although the recall was taken as a precaution, and no illnesses have been reported, the company saw the potential for contamination during a routine test of Target Archer Farms Traditional Hummus (10 ounce) by the Texas Department of Health. Consumers who have purchased the hummus products listed here are urged not to eat them and to dispose of them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Ground beef: According to a press release issued on May 19, 2014, the Wolverine Packing Company based in Detroit, Michigan recalled approximately 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products (see the complete list of recalled products here). The company believes that the ground beef can potentially be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Although the products were shipped for retail and restaurant use nationwide, they were not distributed to the Department of Defense or the National School Lunch Program or for sale in catalogs/on the internet. E. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly bacterium, can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps 2–8 days (3–4 days, on average) after exposure to the organism. Although most can recover from the infection within a week, some can develop a type of kidney failure (symptoms can include easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output). Those who experience such symptoms should seek medical care immediately. The FSIS advises consumers to safely prepare raw meats, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160° F (and to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature to ensure doneness).

While most of the time we don't need to worry about the safety of the food we buy or consume, some of it can become contaminated through undercooking (eg ground beef), cross contamination (preparing or handling raw meat and having it be in contact with other foods like produce), inadequate hand washing and other ways. While we shouldn't shop or eat in fear, there are things we can do to protect our families against the dangers of foodborne illness. Staying in the know about alerts and using the resources below can certainly help us decrease our risks of getting sick from food and help us enjoy food and eating as we should.