Total Recall: Top Reasons for Food Recalls in the Food Industry

Product recalls no matter what the industry can be a company’s worst nightmare. From improperly labelled food products to highly flammable children’s clothing, whatever the recall, the news can spread like wildfire in the age of viral media. Sometimes, there’s no telling if a company will recover from the inevitable financial hit and the damage to their reputation.

Food recalls can be particularly detrimental, given that consumers trust producers to meet one of their most primary human needs without putting their life at risk. Food product recalls shake the very foundation of that trust. As such, it can be difficult for consumers to overcome the fear falling ill or even dying by consuming products from a company with a soiled reputation.

Modern food safety

Recently, many governments around the world have begun to implement more stringent safety measures aimed at preventing food-related illnesses, partially in response to consumer demand for more oversight and transparency. While some companies may find such regulations to be overbearing, others should not have a problem meeting new demands, especially if they’ve already been taking consumer safety seriously without government intervention.

Indeed, many food manufacturers have been investing in the safety of their products for well over two decades, equipping their factories with food grade metal detectors in high numbers, particularly since the 1980s. Why metal detectors? Simply because metals are the leading source of contaminants in food products. Those manufacturers who have been taking food safety seriously for some time should be commended for their initiative, while others who lag must begin to implement company-wide food safety policies and plans as soon as possible.

What are food product recalls?

While most people may think food product recalls are incited by a governmental body’s legal demands, in countries like the United States, they are in fact voluntarily initiated by the manufacturer or distributor of a given product. A careless manufacturer could simply choose not to recall products that they know are tainted, as some infamous companies have done, but governmental bodies such as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does have the legal right to seize and detain such products anyway.

What are some common reasons for recalls?

Food product recalls can happen for a number of reasons. Products may have been improperly labelled or they may have been manufactured under unsafe conditions. Other tests can reveal the presence of anything from metal shards to salmonella. In some cases, products may have been adulterated at some point in time.

Though metal represents the largest source of contaminants in food products (metal contaminants can include stainless steel, ferrous metals such iron and nonferrous metals such as copper), most recalls have to do with other contaminants. This is because the majority of food manufacturers have long ago invested in industrial metal detectors for food industry use, catching contaminated products before they even leave the factory floor. In fact, many manufacturers not only make use of the appropriate food grade metal detectors, they have additional contamination prevention and testing procedures in place to make for more rigorous quality assurance.

As such, most food product recalls have more to do with ingredient mislabeling or bacterial health hazards than anything else. The presence of unlabeled allergens is particularly at fault, as well as that of pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria. In 2015 alone, there were 626 food recalls across the United States, with some big names issuing recalls. For instance, Hormel Foods recalled a product that may have been contaminated with metal shavings discovered during an equipment cleaning procedure.

If it may seem odd that Hormel Foods did not discover the potential for contaminated products sooner, it bears to keep in mind that food contamination measures are not infallible. While industrial metal detectors can do their job if properly setup, maintained and calibrated, they still have their limits. For instance, it can be difficult for metal detectors to identify very small particles of metal contaminants. This is why it is not only important to invest in the right equipment, but also in the implementation of prevention plans and employee training to reduce metal contaminations in the first place.


With quality equipment, rigorous prevention plans and proper employee training, the chances of a food recall occurring can be dramatically reduced. Though contamination is not always preventable, the appropriate investment in safety measures is still of utmost importance. By investing in food safety training and equipment, food manufacturers can keep their customers safe and happy, in addition to protecting their reputation from negative press.