If you thought those frozen chicken nuggets from Perdue and Tysons Foods tasted terrible, there could be a reason why — they had bits of rubber and wood and unlabelled other products like milk (an allergen) in them.   Consumers found pieces of “soft, blue rubber” inside the food and contacted Tysons; similarly, consumers found wood inside Purdue organic, gluten-free nuggets.  All were recalled — to check exactly which packages and products to look for, check the current USDA recall and alerts list here.

How did the USDA find out, you ask?

  • First, On January 17, the USDA announced last week that Purdue Foods was recalling 68,000 pounds of Simplysmart Organics Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets because they contained “foreign matter contamination” — translation:  these “organic and gluten free” nuggets had wood in them!
  • “The problem was discovered when the firm received three consumer complaints that wood was found in the product. A complaint was also reported to FSIS’ consumer complaint monitoring system. FSIS [USDA Food Safety Inspection Service] was notified by the firm” that day.
  • Then on January 28, Perdue recalled another 16,000 pounds “ready-to-eat (RTE) chicken nugget products due to misbranding and undeclared allergens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. The products contain milk, a known allergen, which is not declared on the product label.”
  • The next day, according to The New York TimesTyson Foods recalled more than 36,000 pounds of chicken nuggets when pieces of rubber were found in the food.

Where did all this “foreign matter contamination” come from?  According to The Times,

  • “The rubber came from part of a seal on a piece of equipment used to produce nuggets, said Worth Sparkman, a Tyson spokesman. Part of the seal was pinched during the normal process and was introduced into the blend of nuggets, he said.”
  • “Perdue discovered its most recent problem when a store informed the company that the labeling on the products was incorrect, according to the U.S.D.A.”
  • “It was not clear how the wood or other materials got into the nuggets.”

The product recalls were not impacted by the shutdown — these offices in the USDA kept working through the shutdown.  The FDA inspections of vegetables and fish were impacted, but not meat inspections at the USDA.

Why This Matters:  The number of food safety recalls has been particularly high this year — between these and the lettuce recalls, the list is quite long.  Our food safety system is not as strong and comprehensive as it should be.  Some of these nuggets were labeled as “organic” — but those labels don’t mean anything if there are lax safety regulations, infrequent inspections, and minimal enforcement.  Allergens slipping into food items unmarked can cause serious illness and even death.  As a mom of two kids with deadly nut allergies, I (Monica) am concerned.  Our civilian agencies are not funded at the level they should be.  We have been running the non-defense agencies on shoestring budgets for far too long. Indeed, the C.D.C. estimates that salmonella infections alone, the vast majority of them from food, cause about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths a year.  We should do better.

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