Recall - What's in a Name?

On September 4th, the FDA issued a news release saying that listeria had been found one of the caves at Estrella Family Creamery. They advised that consumers should be wary of any cheeses from Estrella - saying "The FDA cautions consumers about Estrella Family Creamery cheeses," and added that the cheeses may put consumers at risk for Listeria monocytogenes.

At least two major media outlets - Food Safety News and The Oregonian (from which many others draw content) initially reported this story as a 'recall' of Estrella Family Creamery products. To their credit - and at my insistence - both have since changed their published stories on their websites.

As the Estrellas have stated in their response to the FDA's news release, they have been working with state and federal authorities since the recalls of earlier this year to address a number of issues and procedures. The ongoing testing, which revealed the most recent positive, is part of that process. There is no recall, at least not yet. None of the products from the area of contamination were released to the public.

Here's why I'm concerned about this: the word "recall" conjures up all sorts of fears and, let's face it, fans the flames of food hysteria. Whether these fears are justified or misplaced is going to be specific to an individual incident, but I think that's a fair statement, in general. So I think that everyone, and particularly the news media, has an obligation to use the word judiciously and accurately. It's not fair to play to consumers' fears, or add to what the Estrellas are dealing with right now, to conflate an internal testing issue - albeit an important one, no doubt - with a full blown recall.

Are we just splitting hairs here about terminology? I don't think so. I would certainly hope that we can all agree that there is no recall when there is not a formal effort on the part of federal or state authorities, or the cheesemakers, to bring back products that have been sold because of fear of potential contamination. Then let's not call it a recall - OK? Period. I think this casts the situation in an entirely different light. (As an aside, there is actually a whole category of FDA regulations devoted to the definition of 'recall' - if you're interested in such things look here).

As a consumer, whether or not you choose to be wary of Estrella Family Creamery products based on this information is up to you. But make sure you have all of the facts before deciding one way or the other.

For the cheese industry: this just goes to show that one of your best friends during this type of situation could be a good PR person.

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Update: for further information on this developing story, see my later posting here. According to the FDA, they asked the Estrellas to recall their products (at the time of this original posting) because testing indicated listeria was still present at the creamery. The Estrellas refused, reasoning that no products were available to the public. In October, the FDA shut down the creamery.