A number of recalls related to foreign matter contamination have occurred in the past two months, and it appears to mark a continuing a trend that saw these types of recalls increase in 2016. While eliminating high-risk pathogenic threats such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria receive appropriate focus from food companies, these recent foreign matter recalls serve as reminders that physical hazards are equally important to address.

Recent Recalls

Following is a list of the recent recalls related to foreign matter contamination:

  • On April 27, an establishment in Farmville, LA recalled approximately 131,880 pounds of frozen ready-to-eat breaded chicken patty products that may be contaminated with clear, soft plastic that originated from the packaging material. The problem was discovered when the firm received three consumer complaints over a three week period.
  • On April 24, a Tampa, FL establishment recalled approximately 139,909 pounds of RTE smoked meat and poultry sausage products that may be contaminated with metal magnet material. The problem was discovered when a metal magnet was found in the beef trim source product of the processed sausage products.
  • On March 24, a Lampasas, TX establishment recalled approximately 35,168 pounds of frozen RTE beef taquito products that may have been contaminated with pieces of rubber and plastic. The company discovered the problem after receiving two consumer complaints and found that the materials originated from the plant’s processing equipment.
  • On March 23, an establishment in Oklahoma City, OK recalled approximately 933,272 pounds of breaded chicken products that may have been contaminated with metal objects. According to the FSIS press release, the company discovered the problem after receiving five complaints, which were verified by FSIS inspection personnel. The company determined that the objects came from metal conveyor belting.
  • On March 17, a Kent, WA facility recalled approximately 63,252 pounds of ground beef products that may have been contaminated with metal objects. This was an expansion of the original recall that was announced on March 9, in which the company recalled 26,138 pounds of ground beef products. Company officials discovered the problem after receiving several consumer complaints. One notable component of this recall was that some of these products were shipped to Department of Defense facilities.
  • On March 16, a company in Albuquerque, NM recalled approximately 8.622 pounds of frozen burrito product that may have been contaminated with hard, clear plastic. This problem was discovered when FSIS was notified by the company of three consumer complaints, one of which included a minor injury linked to the product’s consumption.

FSIS Activity

These recent series of recalls due to foreign matter appears to demonstrate that FSIS is reaping dividends from its emphasis last year on how establishments handle foreign material complaints. As reported in a previous Arent Fox alert, FSIS conducted a conference call in May 2016 with members of industry to discuss how establishments handle foreign material complaints and respond to related regulatory findings. Then in June 2016, FSIS issued a notice to their inspectors instructing them to complete an online questionnaire addressing whether the facility has a written program in place to capture, evaluate, and respond to consumer complaints regarding foreign matter. FSIS has not announced any next steps subsequent to the issuance of this questionnaire, but the agency still is reviewing the data, and these recent recalls may obviate the need for any follow-up actions by the agency. Many consumers may not believe that placing calls to companies to complain about a product or alert them to a problem can have an impact, but these recalls clearly demonstrate that they do. Each of these recent recalls were discovered after the company had received complaints from consumers. Companies want to know if something is wrong, so that they can act immediately to avoid injuries and protect their brand.

Problems and recalls involving foreign material in foods can resonate just as much with consumers as food-borne pathogen threats, if not more, since metal objects are something that can be seen immediately. The consumer "word-of-mouth" facet of this can be harmful to a company’s reputation and sales; consumers remember these types of events and often tell everyone in their personal network what happened to them.

FSIS Foreign Material Directive

As background, FSIS Directive 7310.5, Presence of Foreign Material in Meat or Poultry Products, which has been in force since 2003, provides guidance to FSIS inspection staff to help verify that establishments are properly addressing the possibility that foreign material is present in products, in a way that is consistent with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point requirements pursuant to 9 CFR 417.2. FSIS inspectors also are responsible under the Directive for verifying that HACCP critical control points for foreign material have been established and validated. Thus, FSIS has existing regulatory controls in place to regulate foreign material contamination issues at regulated establishments.

Forward Recommendations

FSIS’s renewed focus last year on foreign material contamination appears to be paying dividends. We continue to recommend that regulated establishments review and update their HACCP procedures related to foreign materials and also review their compliant handling procedures where appropriate.