You may not realize it, but nearly every day a food product is recalled by the USDA. Most are relatively small, and wind up being fairly harmless for both the consumer and the manufacturer (aside from the financial hit), but some food recalls are enormous and can completely disrupt entire companies. 2015 had no shortage of big food recalls; these are the 12 most impactful ones of the year.
A food recall, by definition, is “any corrective action by a company needed to protect consumers from potentially adverse effects of a contaminated, adulterated, or misbranded product.” They can happen for a variety of reasons, some far more benign than others: A Class III recall has nothing to do with the food itself, but instead involves improper labeling; a Class II recall is issued when there’s a remote possibility of medically reversible health consequences, like when a potential allergen is included in the food but not labeled; and Class I, the most severe recall classification, is issued when consumption of the food in question carries a reasonable probability that it will result in serious illness or death, as in when ready-to-eat food is infected with E. coli.
There have been some major, major food recalls over the years. In 1997, Hudson Beef was forced to recall 25 million pounds of ground beef after E. coli sickened at least 16 people; in 2008, peanuts containing salmonella sickened more than 600 people, causing eight deaths and sending shockwaves across the peanut industry that are still being felt today; in 2007, Topps Meat Company (the country’s leading seller of frozen hamburger patties) was forced to shut down after recalling an entire year’s worth of production after 30 people were sickened by E. coli; and in 1998, Sara Lee recalled 35 million pounds of deli meat and hot dogs after more than 100 people were sickened and 21 died of listeria, costing the company more than $100 million. Clearly, recalls are no laughing matter.
In 2015, thankfully, there were no illness-related recalls on as massive scale as those, but recalls are still a near-daily occurrence, meaning that the USDA is doing its job. You don’t hear about the majority of recalls; current ones include Heeps puréed meat products (misbranding), Mama Lina’s beef and chicken empanadas (produced without inspection), and Kenoska Beef’s pork sausage (possible foreign matter contamination). And while it’s not technically a recall, the ongoing saga of Chipotle’s nationwide E. coli breakout shows just how easy it can be for major food companies to get a whole lot of people sick. If you want to keep track of all the current recalls, you can find a running list of them here. Read on to learn about the biggest food recalls of 2015.