Every year since 2005, Brooklyn has been the borough with the greatest number of food products recalled because of a host of violations, data compiled by a federal lawmaker revealed recently.
In total, the borough had 540 products recalled — from chocolate cheese spread to chicken frankfurters — representing more than half the city’s total of 939 according to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who compiled the data in response to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture showing nearly one out of every 300 samples of ground beef contains E. coli, a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness.
Richard Olson, chief inspector NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, said Brooklyn’s high recall numbers shouldn’t overly concern consumers, as the products often aren’t on store shelves yet, but rather in warehouses awaiting distribution citywide. “A lot of warehouses are located in Brooklyn, because of the accessibility to the Brooklyn-Queens expressway,” he noted. “These are the originators, these are the importers,” he continued. “It’s not like what you’re buying on the shelves is dangerous. A lot of these products are in ethnic neighborhoods — you’re not going to find them in a Pathmark.”
The most recalls were in 2006, with 151, according to the data. Next was 2008 with 137, 2005 with 126, 2007 with 86 and so far in 2009, 40. Queens ranked second in total recalls, with 211 since 2005.
Olson said the borough rich diversity keeps his inspectors busy. “We get a lot of recalls from Russian products and Asian products,” he noted. He said his agency offers seminars to educate importers and businesses.
In Brooklyn, common recall items include salted duck eggs, dried seafood and dried fruit products. Recalls are often initiated when labels don’t properly indicate the presence of allergens or preservatives, he said. Products can also be pulled because of contamination from a variety of causes, including bacteria and other organisms, and metals, such as lead. Inspections are done on a scheduled and non-scheduled basis, he added. “We are a diversified city, there’s every type of food here,” he said.
On Oct. 20, Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced the E. coli Eradication Act, new legislation that would for the fist time mandate E. coli inspections for all ground beef. If contamination is discovered, the bill calls for either proper disposal of the contaminated product or cook the meat at a temperature that kills bacteria.
“In America, in 2009, it is unconscionable that food is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure its safety,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “It’s spreading too many diseases and costing too many lives. We need to do a better job of catching contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table.”
The junior New York senator is also co-sponsoring comprehensive legislation to overhaul the nation’s food safety laws by improving inspection, recall response and public education. The American Meat Institute said Gillibrand’sbill would merely duplicates testing already being done by the industry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),every year an estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 371,000 are hospitalized with food-borne illness, and 5,700 die from food-related disease. In New York City, approximately 2.1 million people are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year. Salmonella is the most common food-borne illness %u2013 causing over one million illnesses each year in the U.S., according to the CDC. Another 70,000 in America fall victim to E. coli each year. From meat and poultry to peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, almost every type of food we eat each day has the potential for contamination because of outdated, insufficient safeguards and testing processes, Gillibrand warned.