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Supermarkets stumble in notifying us of food recalls

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group issued a report saying most large U.S. grocery stores come up short in notifying customers about potentially tainted products.
(Getty Images)

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, with a look today at food recalls — and whether consumers are receiving sufficient notice when contaminated goods make it onto supermarket shelves.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group issued a report last week saying most large U.S. grocery stores come up short in notifying customers of products possibly tainted with salmonella, E. coli and other unwanted ingredients.

“Supermarkets should be our best recall notification system, but instead, we found that shoppers must go on a nearly impossible scavenger hunt to learn if they’ve purchased contaminated food,” said Adam Garber, a spokesman for U.S. PIRG’s Education Fund.

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“Stores already use modern technology to track customers, place products and target us with ads,” he noted. “There’s no reason why they can’t also keep us healthy.”

The group checked out the country’s 26 largest supermarket chains. It gave a failing grade to 84% of them, including Albertsons, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Walmart.

The biggest problem: Most stores failed to adequately notify customers about possibly hazardous products.

This is a big deal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 Americans contract a foodborne illness every year, with 128,000 people hospitalized and 3,000 killed.

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Only four of the chains reviewed by U.S. PIRG received a passing grade: Target, Kroger, Smith’s Food and Drug and Harris Teeter (and those latter two are owned by Kroger, which also owns Ralphs here in the Southland).

U.S. PIRG makes a handful of common-sense recommendations. First, supermarkets should post recall information on their websites (duh).

Second, signs should be posted in stores — especially where affected products are sold — informing shoppers about food recalls. Such signs should be up at least two weeks for perishable goods and at least a month for frozen products.

Finally, supermarkets should use their loyalty programs to issue notices to customers within 48 hours of a recall being announced.

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Stores might not be responsible for food recalls. But that doesn’t mean they should be passive bystanders.

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Now then, here are a couple of recent stories from our pages worth highlighting:

Ouch: Months after Disneyland opened the biggest expansion in its history, the Anaheim theme park raised ticket prices, pushing the cost of some one-day passes above $200 for the first time. Prices of annual passes and the digital MaxPass climbed too.

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Helping hand: A Southern California company is helping China fight the coronavirus. Paulson Manufacturing in the Inland Empire ratcheted up production to maximum capacity to eventually produce an extra 5,000 goggles and 5,000 face shields a day.

Recalls

Medtronic recalled more than 322,000 insulin pumps because a missing or broken component can lead to over- or under-delivery of insulin. The problem was linked to one death, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Gourmet International recalled nearly 2,000 Butlers Irish Whiskey Dark Chocolate 3.5-ounce tablet bars because of high levels of milk not listed in the ingredients, posing a danger to people with allergies. The chocolate bars were sold in California and more than a dozen other states.

Spare change

Songs with “supermarket” in the title? Yep, they exist. The Clash may not be the first group that comes to mind when you think groceries, but they’re on the list. So are Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran and even Barbra Streisand (albeit with a decidedly dated entry). Honorable mention to Jewel for this kid-friendly gem.

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Stay in touch

Let me know what you think of the newsletter. My email is david.lazarus@latimes.com, or you can find me on Twitter @Davidlaz. Also, tell all your pals to join the party.

Until next time, see you in the Business section.


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