How safe is dining hall food?
By
    National Food Recalls

    Data from the FDA. Production by Staci Gold and graphics by Kat Wong / North by Northwestern.

    Unless he hears about them in the NU dining halls, Cooper Carter doesn’t pay much attention to food recalls.

    “I don’t really worry too much about it,” said the Weinberg sophomore, noting that recalls may only concern specific brands. “People freak out a lot more than they should.”

    Last week, the FDA announced another food recall — raw alfalfa sprouts with the contamination linked to salmonella. Recalls hit home just weeks ago when an Illinois-based company recalled products containing pistachios because their nut supplier had issued a recall. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are over 1,500 cases of salmonellosis in Illinois every year. While not fatal, the salmonella infection can cause headaches, fever and vomiting. And don’t think inspecting your food will be enough: contaminated foods usually look and smell fine.

    Should Carter be more concerned? Test your own food recall knowledge: True or false? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can require companies to recall food products. And, the FDA is in charge of all food safety regulations in the U.S.

    If you are unsure of the above answers (both are false, by the way), don’t fret. A recent study by Rutgers Food Policy Institute researchers shows that although Americans agree that food safety is important, much mystery still surrounds the recall process. Even though at least one food product is being recalled at any time, half of Americans still believe that food recalls have no impact on their lives, the study states.

    Doris Timmen, general manager of Northwestern residential dining, suggested this percentage was low because people are “too trusting.”

    If we don’t look out for our own food safety, who does?

    Although salmonellosis is rarely fatal, consumer safety is taken very seriously, especially on college campuses like Northwestern, where thousands of meals are served in dining locations daily. “Food service is of highest importance to us,” Timmen said.

    According to Timmen, Northwestern works with Sodexo, Inc., an integrated food service company. Sodexo assures that Northwestern is up-to-date on all food recalls. The company communicates information about contaminated food to NU through “an e-mail tree,” Timmen said. “Whatever we heard on the news [regarding the peanut recall], we got that info in advance, and three times the amount.”

    As an example, Timmen described a past recall of Kraft food products. “They [Sodexo] sent an e-mail saying if we had any of the product on the shelf, to get them off.” Some Northwestern c-stores had sold Kraft products in the past, but had none in stock at the time of the recall. The university took the situation very seriously. Timmen stressed the importance of “creating a level of comfort for students.”

    The Rutgers study also found that 57% of reported people who had consumed recalled food said they did so because they didn’t believe it was a health risk. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one in four Americans will be sickened by a food-borne illness and 5,000 will die every year after consuming contaminated food.

    Want to boost your food recall awareness? Subscribe to receive free e-mail alerts. For FDA, click here. For USDA, click here.

    Cooper Carter made a graphic for North by Northwestern in 2007.

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