On Tuesday, September 20th, 2016, the Kellogg Company issued a voluntary recall of its highly popular breakfast food, Eggo® waffles, due to concerns of potential Listeria contamination. The recall is specific to the Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat waffles variety, and involves over 10,000 packages shipped to retailers and grocery stores in various parts of the country. The recall affects 25 states (A full list of affected states can be viewed here).
Unfortunately for the run-of-the-mill American consumer, this recall is only the latest in a long — and growing — line of food product recalls over potential Listeria contamination. Previous recalls this year involved Blue Bell® Ice Cream, raw milk, and other assorted vegetables, to name a few.
What is Listeria, and why is it potentially so scary? Well, Listeria is a kind of bacteria. Its full name is Listeria monocytogenes. One of the reasons why it is making headlines is because it is a particularly aggressive bacterium, and it has been very difficult to stop. Further, unlike other bacterium, Listeria can continue to thrive and grow in refrigerated conditions. When it comes to health, the bacteria can cause Listeriosis, and, as such, it’s an important public health concern in the United States.
A Long Line of Listeria Concerns for Food Manufacturers
Indeed, Kellogg Co. isn’t the only company to voluntarily issue a product recall — not even close. In fact, in the last month alone, over 30 food products have been recalled because of Listeria.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a comprehensive list of food product recalls, and the list is updated daily. It’s important for consumers to regularly check the FDA’s list for recent recalls that could affect them.
Just yesterday, for instance, another Listeria-related recall was issued; this one by Apple Tree Goat Dairy® — a small company based out of Pennsylvania, which issued a recall of its Four® Goat Cheeses.
Why We Should Be Wary of Products Associated with Listeria
Listeriosis, the illness that is caused by the Listeria bacterium, is a serious illness — one that can even be fatal. The illness typically affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of Listeriosis can include high fever and muscle pain and aches. Typically, these symptoms occur in conjunction with diarrhea or other, similar gastrointestinal problems. Listeriosis is an invasive virus and can spread quickly.
Pregnant women who are infected by Listeriosis can sometimes have a miscarriage or deliver a stillborn. Older adults who are infected can experience some of the following symptoms: headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and involuntary convulsions.
While there have not yet been any serious cases of a Listeria infection linked directly to Eggo waffles, health officials are on alert, given the Kellogg product’s widespread popularity.
The Potential for Safer Foods in America
The great hope, of course, is that all foods in general trend toward improved safety. Americans shouldn’t have to worry when shopping in their local grocery store that they’ll get sick from the food they buy with their hard-earned money.
It’s been a long wait, but the FDA is taking action. After years of Congressional deliberation, the agency’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is now in full effect. The new law affects large manufacturers — like the Kellogg Company — and aims to curb potential health concerns by enforcing preventative control measures on human food. Food companies that have over 500 employees will now have comply with the comprehensive laws of the FSMA. Obviously, the important goals are to keep Americans safe and to penalize larger companies if they are acting in negligence.
FoodLogiQ VP Katy Jones stated that FSMA is “the most sweeping piece of legislation in the food industry in about 70 years.” She’s right in saying so: The new rules mark a tremendous shift in the overall safety of our food.
“Obviously, there's a lot that's changing, but I think overarching is a tremendous shift from just constantly reacting to everything from a safety perspective… this shift from reaction to preventive approaches,” Jones continued.
This is good news for the American consumer. With laws like FSMA, the country takes 1 small but important step toward better food safety, and, thus, disease prevention.