84% of Grocery Chains Don’t Properly Warn You of This Health Risk

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Woman checking label in grocery store
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Food safety recalls can be scary. But even more frightening is knowing that your local grocer might not provide the details you need about such recalls to keep your family safe.

In fact, the vast majority of major food retailers earn a failing grade in keeping the public aware of such episodes, according to a recent U.S. PIRG Education Fund survey.

The nonprofit consumer advocacy organization says that 22 of the 26 largest U.S. grocery stores get failing grades for the policies and practices they use to notify consumers about food recalls.

In reaching its verdict, U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) began by sending questionnaires to leading grocers about recall policies, efforts to directly notify consumers and the posting of warning signs in stores. Most of the grocery chains declined to respond, or only answered a few questions.

So, the nonprofit took matters into its own hands:

“[W]e did what any concerned consumer might if they had a significant amounts of free time: a significant review of all publicly available information about supermarket’s recall efforts. We examined company websites, terms of service, and privacy policies.”

The analysis revealed that most grocery stores fail in several ways, including:

  • Eighty-four percent of grocery store chains did not provide a public description of how they notify customers about recalls.
  • Although more than half of surveyed grocery store chains said they have a program to directly notify consumers about recalls via email or phone, U.S. PIRG typically was unable to find out when such a program “is activated, how customers participate, or what information is included in the notifications.”
  • None of the chains in the survey offer information online about where recall notices can be found inside stores.

Stores tagged with failing grades include:

  • Albertsons
  • Aldi
  • BI-LO
  • Food Lion
  • Giant Eagle
  • Hannaford
  • Harveys
  • H-E-B
  • Hy-Vee
  • Meijer
  • Price Rite
  • Publix
  • Safeway
  • ShopRite
  • Stop & Shop
  • The Fresh Grocer
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Vons
  • Walmart
  • Wegmans
  • Whole Foods
  • Winn-Dixie

By contrast, four stores earned passing grades — albeit only at the “C” level — for “providing adequate information about their recall notification policies to the public,” U.S. PIRG reports. They are:

  • Harris Teeter
  • Kroger
  • Smith’s
  • Target

How can grocery stores improve their food-recall practices?

U.S. PIRG notes that grocery stores typically have loyalty programs and track purchase histories in a way that gives the retailers information they could use to provide “targeted alerts” to customers about recalled products:

“Stores can see sales of products drop after recalls and may receive some blame for failing to notify consumers. But, proactively warning customers they may have purchased recalled food is more than a critical mechanism to protect public health — it could help inoculate the grocery store from consumer outrage.”

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