Why the Salmonella Food Recalls Might Not Stop With Goldfish and Ritz Crackers

Recent recalls of popular snacks have prompted social media users to question which snacks are safe to eat

What to Know

  • AMPI recalled its whey powder that it supplies to an undisclosed number of manufacturers
  • Some Goldfish, Ritz crackers, Swiss Rolls and a Hungry Man all issued precautionary recalls
  • Nonetheless, brand experts said the incident shouldn’t have a significant impact on future sales

Bill Marler arrived at his Seattle home one night this week and began searching through the cupboard for something to eat. Toward the back, the food poisoning attorney spotted a bag of Goldfish, then remembered news reports about a new recall. Sure enough, he owned one of the more than 3 million packages that had been recalled on Monday. 

The back-to-back recalls of household staples Goldfish and Ritz crackers, along with earlier recalls of the Kellogg's cereal Honey Smacks and other cases, have prompted social media users to question which snacks are safe to eat. The short answer: we don't know yet, though no one has fallen ill from consuming recently recalled snack products linked to one supplier of whey protein.

Pepperidge Farm issued its voluntary recall for four types of its Goldfish crackers after the whey powder manufacturer Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) announced a recall of its own due to the “possible presence” of salmonella. Another company, Mondelez, recalled several of its Ritz cracker products over the weekend for the same reason.

Last week, Flowers Foods recalled its Swiss Rolls sold under various brand names. The company mentioned the whey powder ingredient in a news release. A Hungry Man frozen dinner also used AMPI's recalled powder. 

AMPI spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt noted that "all products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella as part of AMPI’s routine testing program.”

But because "additional product tested positive for Salmonella under AMPI’s routine test and hold procedures," the recall was a precautionary move. 

"At AMPI, we are dedicated to producing dairy products that meet the highest quality and safety standards," Schmidt said. "We will continue to work cooperatively with the FDA." 

In a high-profile recall not linked to AMPI, Kellogg's flagged Honey Smacks last month due to the possible presence of salmonella. Seventy-three people became ill after eating the cereal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whey powder isn't an ingredient in Honey Smacks, Kellogg's said in an email to NBC. 

Marler, who represents some of the people who fell ill from salmonella after consuming Honey Smacks, said companies that alert customers before anyone gets sick have adopted the best approach to managing the issue.

With Ritz, Goldfish, Swiss Rolls and Hungry Man — products the FDA has linked to AMPI — there haven’t been any reported illnesses. Other manufacturers who use AMPI's whey powder might begin issuing recalls in the coming days, Marler predicted, based on how past recalls have played out. 

"I would expect it to be potentially dozens of products," Marler said. "This kind of recall is the system working properly. It's common and actually a good thing."

Here's how the system operates: ingredient and product testing is not regulated or required by the government. Companies often test their products according to their own food safety plans, said Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety associate at Penn State’s college of agricultural sciences.

When an ingredient supplier identifies possible contamination, it contacts the manufacturers it works with. The supplier also files a report with the FDA explaining the recall using the agency's reportable food registry portal.  

In AMPI's case, the powder they provide for dairy and baked products is also a common ingredient used to coat cereals and other snacks, said Randy Worobo, a professor in Cornell’s department of food science. 

AMPI declined to release its complete list of whey powder customers,  confirming only that four manufacturers it works with have issued voluntary recalls as of Wednesday. It said it doesn't release proprietary customer lists.

An FDA spokesman said the agency had the list but wouldn't provide it. NBC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine which companies receive whey powder from AMPI. 

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Food is the cause of 1 million of those illnesses and 380 deaths. 

In 2007 and 2008, Peanut Corporation of America discovered salmonella contamination in its ingredients that were used in other manufacturers’ products but didn’t immediately issue a recall, according to The New York Times. Nine people were killed and more than 700 were reported ill as a result.

Companies that issue voluntary recalls before anyone gets sick will likely be viewed by customers in a positive light, said Tom Meyvis, an NYU marketing professor who studies consumer behavior.

“There’s an advantage to [the recall being connected] to one supplier,” Meyvis said.

Marler, the food poisoning attorney in Seattle, said that between recalls for romaine lettuce and Del Monte vegetables and illnesses linked to McDonald’s salads, the number of food-related ailments this year is alarming.

The FDA disputes that characterization. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that there haven't been an increase in the number or scope of recalls.

"Our tools for detecting them are much better, and our policies for how and when we alert the public lean in the direction of more and earlier communication," Gottlieb said. 

The FDA recommends that people discard or return recalled products to the stores where they're purchased. 

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