What to Do if Something Is Recalled

Recalls are always in the news and easy to tune out, but don’t ignore them.

It has probably happened to you in the past, and it will probably happen again: a recall. A recall is what happens when a product is determined to be unsafe, and the public is asked to stop using and return the item right away. Sometimes the recalled item is food, and sometimes it is something like furniture, or a grill or a stroller.

Returning recalled merchandise, of course, becomes impossible and a little disconcerting if the item was, say, a package of bologna, and you just polished off a bologna sandwich. Whoops.

It is far easier, of course, to return a pair of pajamas because it turns out the material is flammable and thus potentially unsafe.

So what should you do if an item is recalled? Whether it’s food-related or a tangible good, much of what you do is pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll walk through your options.

Your Recourse if Something You Own Has Been Recalled

“Most product recalls will include instructions on what the consumer should do. Typically, you’ll be asked to return the product to the store where you purchased it, and in most cases, you’ll be offered a refund at the store. However, depending on what type of product it is, the instructions and remedies will vary,” says David Chami, attorney and managing partner of Consumer Attorneys, a background check and credit reporting law firm. Chami, however, specializes in consumer protection cases and is the state co-chair for the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Arizona.

In general, if you’ve purchased something that has been recalled, grab the receipt or some documentation proving that you made the purchase, such as a credit card statement, and take the item back to the store to get your money back.

What Is the Best Way to Handle Recalled Food Items?

“In the case of food recalls, the item is usually being recalled as a precautionary measure out of concern that the item may be contaminated. Consumers should not open the item and should return it to the store where it was purchased,” Chami says.

That’s the ideal. If you don’t feel like it’s worth your time to return the recalled food, toss it in the trash. But don’t eat it.

It really is disconcerting to consider how often food is recalled. It probably happens more than you realize.

“Throughout the first five months of 2023, America experienced 125 food recalls involving bacterial contamination, undeclared ingredients and even broken glass. That is an average of 25 recalls per month,” says Angela Fernandez, the vice president of community engagement at GS1 US, a nonprofit and the global identification standards body for barcodes.

Fernandez has spent more than 20 years working on recall issues, working with companies such as manufacturers, food service operators and retailers.

And just as there are many instances of recalled foods happening, food is recalled for a variety of reasons. In the last several weeks, the following recalls have included the following incidents:

  • The H.T. Hackney Company of Indianapolis recalled some salad mixes in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio because there may have been metal in the product.
  • General Mills did a recall of some of its Gold Medal flour, for fears of it being contaminated with Salmonella.
  • SunOpta Grains and Foods Inc. recalled 32,400 pounds of organic pineapple chunks that may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
  • J.T.M. Provisions Company recalled 22,530 pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat beef chili with beans for the fear of people eating it and finding pieces of white plastic in it.
  • Regal Health Food International recalled some tubs of chocolate-covered raisins sold at Dollar General stores over worries that there might be undeclared peanuts in them. This could be a serious problem if you have a peanut allergy.

It’s understandable if you’re starting to hatch unrealistic plans now to start making and growing your own food. Still, Fernandez sees some hope on the horizon. Technology allowing companies to keep track of where their food travels on the supply chain is improving, and the federal government has been pushing food manufacturers to improve what they’re doing.
“The industry is actively working to address product recalls with even stricter supply chain traceability requirements for high-risk foods through the US FDA’s Food Traceability Final Rule, part of section 204 under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Final Rule will allow for faster identification and rapid removal of potentially contaminated food from the market,” Fernandez says.

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