A Food Recall’s Ripple Effect: What We’ve Learned from Valley Milk Products

The Valley Milk Products recall resulted in a subsequent ripple effect of recalls affecting over 30 companies. As this food safety event has played out over the last several months, it hWaterdropFotolia_9972077_Mas also raised several questions on how the industry should react and handle these types of chain-reaction-like recalls. The full article can be found on the Food online site.

The Ripple Effect

As reported i n details (1, 2, 3 ) The primary recall of Valley Milk Products (VMP) resulted in a ripple effect to a secondary group of companies that used VMP.

The Ripple Effect Turns Tertiary As described in the Food online articlewe are currently observing several tertiary effects — companies that used products of the secondary group of products or products that were manufactured by a third party on lines where VMP were processed — of the VMP recall.

Important Facts

No Salmonella was reported to be recovered from VMP or the recalled products. None of the companies that recalled their products due to VMP had experienced any problems or got complaints about the recalled products, and no illnesses have been reported caused by these products.

Questions Raised by the Recalls

First, “Why did VMP refuse to recall products immediately after Salmonella was found in its processing environment?”  Many problems could have been avoided if they did.

Second, “Why did it take several months for the FDA to recall the products and stop their sale?” If the products are dangerous to the public, they should have been removed from commerce immediately after the discovery of the contamination, not several months later. The recalled products were in commerce for several months before the recall with no single report of illness due to the consumption of the products. Therefore, one should pose the questions, “Were the products contaminated in the first place?” and “Were all parties being overcautious?”

Third, a number of laboratories tested the related products and did not recover any pathogens. If the products were contaminated, “Why did so many labs fail to detect pathogens?”

Fourth, “Is there a better way to handle the chain reaction of this type of recall; where trace quantities of a potentially contaminated product get embedded in so many other products?” In the age of the Internet, it shouldn’t take months to complete a recall.

Finally, the most important question: Has the pendulum swung too far by the FDA demanding companies recall products that might be perfectly safe? If we accept GMA’s survey results demonstrating the financial impact of a recall is on average up to $30M, the cost of all the recalls due to VMP has been coming close to $1 billion. All these recalls took place without a single reported illness and without finding of Salmonella in any product.

While the infective dose of Salmonella varies with serotype, for non-typhoidal salmonellosis, the infectious dose is approximately 103 bacilli. Therefore, is it justified to recall so much good product for an infinitesimal chance it contains Salmonella?

Did FDA and the companies involved use too much caution?  How could the situation be handled better? Your opinion is important to us.

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