The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service maintains a recall case archive of meat and poultry product recalls from 1994 to the present. In this study, we collected all recall records from 1994 to 2015 and extracted the recall date, meat or poultry species implicated, reason for recall, recall class, and pounds of product recalled and recovered. Of a total of 1,515 records analyzed, the top three reasons for recall were contamination with Listeria, undeclared allergens, and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli. Class I recalls (due to a hazard with a reasonable probability of causing adverse health consequences or death) represented 71% (1,075 of 1,515) of the total recalls. The amounts of product recalled and recovered per event were approximately lognormally distributed. The mean amount of product recalled and recovered was 6,800 and 1,000 lb (3,087 and 454 kg), respectively (standard deviation, 1.23 and 1.56 log lb, respectively). The total amount of product recalled in the 22-year evaluation period was 690 million lb (313 million kg), and the largest single recall involved 140 million lb (64 million kg) (21% of the total). In every data category subset, the largest recall represented >10% of the total product recalled in the set. The amount of product recovered was known for only 944 recalls. In 12% of those recalls (110 of 944), no product was recovered. In the remaining recalls, the median recovery was 29% of the product. The number of recalls per year was 24 to 150. Recall counts and amounts of product recalled over the 22-year evaluation period did not regularly increase by year, in contrast to the regular increase in U.S. meat and poultry production over the same time period. Overall, these data suggest that (i) meat and poultry recalls were heavily skewed toward class I recalls, suggesting recalls were focused on improving food safety, (ii) numbers of products and amounts of each product recalled were highly variable but did not increase over time, and (iii) the direct contribution of recalls to the food waste stream was associated with the largest recalls.

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