Friday, November 18, 2011

Red River recall highlights food safety measures

Aside from an unpleasant period of paranoia brought on by seeing the documentary Food Inc., I’ve never put much thought into food safety.
But when the food police come for my Red River cereal - well, that certainly gets my attention.
At first I thought there’d just been a run on Red River when I saw the empty shelf. But after several forays to different stores in an effort to find my breakfast of choice, I spotted the little recall notices.
It’s unsettling to learn that something you eat every day has been recalled. So I went looking for answers this week and discovered how little I knew about the whole complicated business of food safety in Canada, let alone the dense regulatory regime that aims to protect Canadians from harmful foods.
In the case of the Red River recall, it’s a labelling issue. Soy is in the cereal but isn’t declared on the label. Food allergies have become a major focus for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after national labelling laws were tightened in February, and soy is apparently a big one.
Companies have until August 2012 to comply with the new labelling rules, which will require a nice, clear caution in plain English warning buyers if a product has soy, coconut or any other of the 14 known allergens CFIA watches out for.
Smucker Foods of Canada - which makes Red River - opted to recall the Canadian supply of the cereal early while the labelling issue gets sorted out. My loss, but probably a good thing for any Red River fans with soy allergies.
Allergens are a common reason for food recalls. We’ve had almost 600 recalls to date this year, and many involved various allergens that turn up in our packaged foods without our knowledge.
Immerse yourself in the very detailed CFIA Web site and you’ll soon see just how many other worrying things can affect our food and drink, from ground-glass fragments to botulism, salmonella and paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Fortunately, a third of this year’s recalls were rated Class 3, a relatively mild infraction that might just indicate a company hasn’t brought a certain practice up to code. (The Red River soy mixup is rated Class 1, because the potential for harm is significant for those with soy allergies.)
The even better news is that most food recalls in Canada are initiated by the companies that make the products. That’s a heartening indicator that they’re paying attention long before their products reach our tables. Most food recalls happen before anybody gets sick.
And that’s as it should be. We need to be able to trust that food manufacturers are doing their best not to harm us. No government body could ever stay on top of all the ingredients in all the food and drink we take in, and a complaints-based approach doesn’t work when a person could actually die in the process.
 But I’d guess that trying to prevent people from having allergic reactions to food products will turn out to be one of the industry’s more challenging problems, and not just because more people seem to be developing such allergies.
Take soy, for instance. People who are allergic to it presumably know to check the ingredients list on the side of a product before buying packaged or processed foods.
But soy goes by many names, and soy-based emulsifiers and thickeners go by even more. Knowing whether soy is in the chewing gum, the tuna or the bread crumbs you’re about to buy isn’t always as simple as reading the label.
The CFIA has a section on its site encouraging consumer responsibility around food safety, mostly urging us to report to the agency with concerns about food-related problems.
 But anyone worried about food allergies might also want to spend some time browsing the site just to get to know the many faces of their allergen when it comes to packaged foods. There’s a great recall search system that links you to all kinds of information - like the 13 Class 1 recalls that have been initiated in B.C. in the last month.
For all you Red River fans out there, I’d hoped to have word of a triumphant Canadian return (Note to cross-border shoppers: no recall in the U.S.) Alas, Smucker’s didn’t get back to me with that information, so we’re left to wonder.
In the meantime, visit and see what your food supply is up to.  


Anonymous said...

I do not share your rosy opinion of the CFIA. They have failed on multiple occasions, the Listeria / Inspection incident being the most recent. I felt sick repeatedly eating luncheon meats long before that story broke.

The Red River Cereal boxes do not anywhere say "made in a soy free facility" and this hardly classifies as a Class 1 incident, sorry killing the elderly with Listeria is a class 1. Maybe the product should be recalled but it is not toxic in any way.

It is also interesting to note that Red River Cereal is the last "whole ingredient" breakfast product on the grocery shelves in my area and it is cheap per serving. The rest of the shelf is full of breakfast products that actually are Class 1 health risks. I can go without eating for a day barely noticing and my blood sugar is rock stable eating just about anything imaginable, but those breakfast cereals make me light headed.

Once again the CFIA fails to do anything useful. Recall for a healthy product that contains soy, even though the package doesn't say it is soy free while the vast majority of the rest of the breakfast cereal isle actually is toxic.

opit said...

The listeria question isn't just a matter of food - nor is soy allergy.
Food comes from agribusiness. Farm is a euphemism dubiously applied to petroleum intensive monoculture.
Regulations are meant to keep us safe ? That's the Mission Statement. In actual fact, as the history of pasteurization shows, big business seeks monopoly by freezing out small farms and businesses via regulatory schemes oriented towards putative 'food safety' while virtually ignoring toxins and nutritive content.
A raw milk producer/activist and a retired Ohio farmer added to my past knowledge of how CIA chief Nelson A Rockefeller destroyed farming in central and South America decades ago.
Plus when the Panelist came out with "The Real Winner in Iraq was Monsanto", originally as an essay rather than a YouTube video, it sparked interesting surfing returns around the parameters " Rumsfeld Monsanto" the point of a military plan to destroy agriculture worldwide.
Those are extreme claims.
Background - the Water, Corporate Agriculture and Vaccines files; especially two posts Aug 13 2009