Not a week goes by in the United States without the Food & Drug Administration issuing a recall notice. That won’t deter some of us from trying to eat the recalled item, however. A survey found that 12% of Americans say they have knowingly eaten a food they thought had been recalled.  Why? Because, they say, “I thought the food wouldn’t hurt me,” “I distrust the government and/or media,” “It must be safe if it is being sold” and “I made it safe” (by washing or cooking it).

They are taking a huge risk. The FDA, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notes that about 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.

“This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable,” the FDA concludes.

Largely preventable yet still the food industry grumbles about government rules and regulations. They should be thanking the FDA, lest we turn into China. But I’ll concede that the U.S. food industry has a point, up to a point. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act requires processors to undertake additional reporting and the agency has not issued its final rules in a timely matter.

Still, food processors know what they need to watch out for. In 2013, three pathogens accounted for the majority of food recalls: Salmonella (37.6%), undeclared food allergens (21.6%) and Listeria monocytogenes (20.2%), according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Consider these announcements:

  • April 23. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams recalled all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets and ice cream sandwiches for all flavors and containers because of the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes.
  • April 20. New York State’s agriculture commissioner warned consumers not to consume a queso fresco made by Queseria La Poblanita due to possible Staphylococcus aureuscontamination.
  • April 20. Blue Bell Ice Cream recalled all of its products (including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks) made at all of its facilities because they have the potential to be contaminated withListeria monocytogenes.
  • April 17. Hines Nut Co. recalled walnuts it packaged because of the possibility of Salmonella contamination.
  • April 8. Sabra Dipping Co. recalled approximately 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.
  • March 31. La Terra Fina expanded its recall to include Chunky Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip & Spread due to a recall notice from its organic spinach supplier because of possible Listeria monocytogenes exposure.

I visited with the management of Blue Bell Ice Cream in November and toured their Texas plant for an article we published in February. It is painful to see a pillar of the dairy industry go through this recall, the first in its 108-year history. I have no doubt they’ll get to the root cause and take steps to prevent a repeat.

This recall (as well as those in the partial list above) should serve as a wake-up call for all dairies to re-examine their cleaning, sanitizing and food-handling procedures.

What do you feed a Millennial?

April wasn’t totally cruel. I found proof that the future of the dairy industry is in good hands.

The best way to find out what younger consumers want to eat is to ask them. Better yet, ask them to develop a food or beverage that suits the way they live. That’s what the National Dairy Council did and that’s how I found myself in Rosemont, Ill., helping to determine the winners of NDC’s New Product Competition, directed by Senior Vice President Bill Graves. Also on the judging panel were dairy processors, farmers and my media brethren.

The Millennial generation is roughly ages 18 to 33 (younger than Gen X but older than Gen Z). They like to snack and eat on the go. NDC challenged university students this year to “reinvent” beverages using dairy ingredients. The product had to be an excellent source of protein, taste good and be healthy. I liked everything I tasted, but some were clearly better than others. The winners will be announced at the IFT expo in July.

This competition is about more than mixing ingredients. The student teams had to analyze the shopping, eating and drinking habits of their peers. They had to develop a product that meets a need and offers benefits. After formulating a beverage, the student teams had to describe to the judges how to process and package the product. We quizzed them on their choices of ingredients and packages. Finally, the students crunched the costs and expenses to arrive at a suggested retail price. This competition is all very much about real world problem solving.

 The National Dairy Council seeks ingredient and equipment suppliers to underwrite the costs of next year’s competition. It would be a good investment for a dairy processor as well. Contact Bill Graves,