At the time of this writing, there have been 13 food product recalls of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-regulated products in 2021. Three were caused by pathogens (E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes), three resulted from the presence of foreign materials (glass, plastic and rubber) and seven resulted from products that were deemed by USDA to have been produced “without the benefit of inspection.”

That seems like a high percentage of recalls and suggests that industry may need to do a better job in some segments ensuring compliance with all inspection-related rules and requirements.

What does it mean to produce a product without the benefit of inspection? Well, it would be like attempting to dock a cruise ship without being a licensed captain or performing surgery without having attended (and graduated from) an accredited medical school. As we all know, USDA takes meat production very seriously and over the course of 100 years has established many requirements that must be satisfied prior to being accorded the privilege to harvest and fabricate animals for human food.

Federal establishments must meet stringent requirements prior to issuing a USDA Grant of Inspection. A company’s HACCP plans, sanitation procedures and other required programs must not only be reviewed by USDA (and must avoid USDA objection), but the construction, layout and serviceability of the facilities and equipment must also be deemed adequate for ensuring the consistent production of a safe product. Once a company has demonstrated it has the required plans and programs in place, it will be allowed to operate under the close supervision of USDA.

So why do companies appear to be struggling in 2021 with inspection issues? The most egregious example was discovered by USDA during routine verification tasks. USDA personnel discovered the establishment had produced taco dip, pasta salads and potato salad (which all required USDA inspection) at an off-site, uninspected facility, shipped the products to their federal establishment, then repackaged and labeled the products with the USDA mark of inspection. This led to a recall of nearly 7,000 pounds of products. In another example, a company in Illinois reportedly produced nearly 10,000 pounds of meat and poultry pasta products in a facility that presumably had neither applied for nor received a federal USDA Grant of Inspection.

In the remaining recalls, the products at issue were imported from ineligible foreign establishments and determined by USDA to have been produced without the benefit of inspection. Examples included pork products imported from France, beef products imported from China and canned corned beef imported from Australia. All told this year, more than 500,000 pounds of violated food products were removed from store shelves because of the lack of inspection.

When buying ingredients, always be sure to verify that your suppliers are shipping compliant products. When producing your own, never try to captain the ship without a license. Always make sure your products are being produced only in approved facilities and only on the authorized days and times.