Vegetable Growers’ Food Safety Vigilance Is Paying Off (Opinion)

When you hear about recalls, the horror stories come to mind first. That’s understandable, considering the human cost involved with those infamous cases.

I wanted to get a handle on just how often food safety recalls involving vegetable growers occur, so I pored through public records from the FDA. The agency reports every recall it issues, from medical devices to vitamins and supplements, to meat and dairy, to produce.

It turns out vegetable growers are doing pretty well.

There have been 210 food safety recalls so far in 2017 as of this posting. Out of those recalls, only 49 involved foods that included vegetables in some way, including processed foods like carrot muffins and prepared salads, as well as straight up vegetables like salad greens.

I read through each formal recall notice and learned that only 19 recalls could potentially be traced back to a grower.

Here’s a closer look:

Disease Is the Leading Cause of Vegetable Recalls

Fourteen of the 19 recalls involved diseases. Most contaminations were discovered by testing facilities, while some were reported by suppliers. Listeria was the most common disease detected, spurring 11 of the 14 disease-related recalls. Salmonella-positive tests made up the remaining three.

Foreign Objects Are a Less Common Cause

There were four recalls generated by detecting foreign objects, although two of the four were from the same incidence. It’s suspected that a potato grower accidentally harvested a single golf ball with its potatoes, and so hash browns made from the grower’s crop in the time frame were recalled.

Prohibited Substance — a Lone Violation

A single recall stemmed from a supply of thyme containing lead.

All of these numbers represent a sharp improvement. By this time last year, there were almost double the number of vegetable recalls due to disease. The hard work growers are putting into keeping their produce safe is obviously paying off.

USDA’s Food Safety Stats on Vegetable Recalls

1. Of the 210 FDA recalls so far this year (as of July 15, 2017), only 49 involve foods containing vegetables. Of those, 19 involved labeling problems, such as undeclared milk, nuts, or other allergens, which doesn’t involve a vegetable grower. That means there have been only 30 recalls so far in 2017 that may involve a grower.

2. But not all of these 30 recalls will trickle back to the produce operation. Exactly half of the 30 recalls are for processed foods that include a vegetable product, like sun-dried tomato pesto, potato chips, or carrot cupcakes, which are less likely to trace as far back as you, the grower.

3. Compared to the same period in 2016, all of these numbers are down. Overall, there were 540 recalls, with 52 involving food that contained vegetables. And 43 of the 52 were unprocessed vegetables.

Source: American Vegetable Grower’s analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s statistics.

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