Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, reports a sharp increase in the number of recalls of organic food products.
Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture that Stericylce uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls, the New York Times reports.
In 2012 and 2013, organic foods accounted for only 1 percent of total units recalled. Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase in organic food recalls.
“What’s striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label,” Pollack said. “This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren’t aware of it.” The overall amount of food recalled because of suspected bacterial contamination has increased this year, adding to an upward trend in food recalls since 2012. Stericycle predicts a 24 percent increase in the number of food units that will be recalled this year, the Times reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick each year; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.
The Organic Trade Association disagreed with Stericycle’s accounting, saying its own analysis of FDA and Agriculture Department recall data shows the problem to be less severe, with organic products accounting for 4.9 percent of recalls, in line with the percentage of organic food sold out of total retail food sales. Gwendolyn Wyard, senior director of regulatory and technical affairs at the association said, “an overall increase in organic recalls between 2012 and 2015 would not be surprising — not because organic food is less safe, but because of the dramatic increase in organic food sales and purchases that we’ve been seeing in this country,” according to the Times.
Organic food sales in the U.S. have risen by almost 25 percent since 2012, Wyard said, and the number of organic products on the market is increasing steadily as demand for organic products increases. Sales of certified organic products hit $39 billion in 2014, up 11.3 percent from 2013, the Times reports. Wyard also noted that food safety mechanisms have increased since 2012, with a corresponding increase in food recalls. For example, organic spinach from one producer was recalled in March because of the possibility of listeria contamination. The spinach was used by five brands, including Amy’s Kitchen and Costco, in more than 500,000 individual units. No one has yet reported an illness from consuming any products containing the spinach, said an attorney who specializes in food safety issues. Stericycle counts every unit affected, but the trade association argues that this constituted a single recall.
Bill Marler, the food safety attorney, advised caution in considering the data. A single recall involving tens of thousands of units may distort the data. “You have to watch what happens over time,” he said, to determine the trends.