Supermarkets stumble in notifying us of food recalls
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.
“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.
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.
Stores might not be responsible for food recalls. But that doesn’t mean they should be passive bystanders.
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