A national organization, known as the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, conducted a survey of 26 of the largest grocery store chains, asking if they warn customers about hazardous food.
Only four of the chains responded when asked about how and if they notify, customers when a recall has been reported--earning them a “C” grade. The remaining 22 grocery store chains failed because they didn’t provide any information at all.
E-coli, salmonella and other food borne illnesses can have serious, even deadly consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million Americans get a food borne illness every year--Of those, 128,000 people end up in the hospital and 3,000 die as a result.
Food recalls are designed to prevent consumers from getting sick, but grocery stores aren’t required to tell you about recalls. About one in four food borne illnesses happen well after a recall is issued, so clearly not everyone is getting the message when they need to throw something away.
“Currently there is no law or administrative guidance saying that grocery stores have to follow X,Y,Z procedures in terms of recalls," explained Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund. "The Food and Drug Administration does have the authority to require these types of thing(s) but they have not yet. We certainly think they should.”
By doing its own research, the advocacy group found that 84% of the store chains failed to provide any public description of their process for notifying customers of recalls. More than half, 58%, reported having a program to notify customers via email or phone, but the researchers said information about signing up was difficult to find.
“Certainly these major grocery stores have a customer loyalty program and by doing that, when you sign up, you typically give over your phone number and maybe your email ,” Scarr said. "And they are tracking every purchase we make to use that for marketing or product placement. There’s no reason they can’t also use that to notify customers and to also protect our health."
How can you make sure you’re getting information about food recalls?Experts recommend you go online.
Scarr recommends signing up for FDA and USDA alerts.
"You can sign on their websites to get alerted directly. You can also follow them on social media, so it would show up in their social media feeds,” Scarr said.
“The other thing is just go to your store and ask customer service, ask what policies they have and how you can get notified," Scarr continued to say. "Even if they don’t have a good answer, hopefully if enough consumers do that, they’ll start getting better answers and developing better policies and be responsive to consumer demand."