Listeria contamination can lead to recalls of deli meat, unpasteurized cheeses, fresh produce and other foods.
When public health officials learn of potential Listeria contamination in a food product, that food is removed from the marketplace to prevent Listeria outbreaks.
Recalls of Listeria-contaminated foods are almost always voluntary; however, if a company refuses to recall its products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have the legal authority to detain and seize those food products in commerce.
Sometimes companies discover Listeria contamination in their products and issue Listeria-related recalls on their own. Other times, companies recall products for potential Salmonella contamination if FDA or FSIS testing has revealed Listeria in a food or if FDA or FSIS has learned of a Listeria outbreak associated with a food.
FDA and FSIS Food Recall Management for Listeria
In the case of FDA-regulated products (all foods except eggs, meat and poultry), FDA’s role is to oversee a company’s recall strategy and to assess the adequacy of the recall. For USDA-regulated products, the FSIS role is well integrated into the recall process. A Recall Committee, which is housed within the FSIS Recall Management Division, makes recommendations to the company about the need for a recall if Listeria contamination is found.
Food Recall Classifications have been established for both FDA and FSIS. Guidelines are used to categorize food recalls into 1 of 3 classes, according to the level of hazard involved.
FDA Recall Classifications: For all food products except meat, poultry and eggs
Class I: Dangerous or defective products that predictably could cause serious health problems or death. Examples include: food found to contain botulinum toxin, food with undeclared allergens, a label mix-up on a lifesaving drug, or a defective artificial heart valve.
Class II: Products that might cause a temporary health problem, or pose only a slight threat of a serious nature. Example: a drug that is under-strength but that is not used to treat life-threatening situations.
Class III: Products that are unlikely to cause any adverse health reaction, but that violate FDA labeling or manufacturing laws. Examples include: a minor container defect and lack of English labeling in a retail food.
More information about FDA food recall policy can be found on the FDA Product Recall page.
USDA Recall Classifications: For all meat, poultry and egg products
Class I: This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.
Class II: This is a health hazard situation where there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from the use of the product.
Class III: This is a situation where the use of the product will not cause adverse health consequences.
More information about USDA/FSIS food recall policy can be found on the FSIS Food Recall page.