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What are the Most Common Reasons for a Meat Recall?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Regulations govern worldwide food safety, but it is not unusual for companies to issue a large-scale recall of potentially dangerous meat products. This often happens because the company or a government has found a potential for contamination by a foreign body that makes the meat unsafe. Many times, the contaminant is a form of bacteria and can be similar to contaminants found in dairy products. Contamination of meat products can happen in factories and processing plants where proper hygiene is not observed, or may be present in the meat of the animal when it enters the plant.

One of the most common contaminants responsible for a meat recall is Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli. These bacteria are often found in animal feces or in water that has been in contact with contaminated waste products. If meat-processing plants do not follow proper health and sanitation guidelines, raw meat can become contaminated. Although E. coli is killed when raw meat is properly cooked to 160° F (71° C), many companies will issue a meat recall rather than risk consumer illness.

Processed deli meat is often recalled.
Processed deli meat is often recalled.

Another type of bacteria responsible for companies issuing a meat recall is Listeria monocytogenes, found in chicken, pork, and processed deli meats. In some cases, recalls have also extended to products such as soups and salads that contain meat products from processors where there has been a breach in sanitation. Serious contamination can result in individuals developing a fatal illness or pregnant women suffering miscarriagesl the bacteria can be particularly deadly to the very young and the elderly.

Meat department at a grocery store.
Meat department at a grocery store.

Salmonella contamination is also a common cause of a meat recall; some span entire countries and can develop into international recalls. Typically found in chicken and other poultry, salmonella can also be found in some of the seasonings and prep ingredients used in the production of processed meats, such as deli cuts. Like E. coli, salmonella is usually killed when cooked to the proper temperature; however, companies that find batches of contaminated product will generally recall the meat to help ensure that no consumers get sick.

Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.
Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.

Sometimes, there is a meat recall issued for products designed for animal consumption. Dog food, cat food, and rawhide chews can also become contaminated with bacteria that make them dangerous not only for consumption by pets, but also for the humans who handle the foods. Pets can demonstrate many of the same symptoms as humans when given contaminated foods.

Discussion Comments


@bythewell - It's funny how people will be careful to use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables, but will store them all in the same bag on the way home from the supermarket.

Most of the time they are fairly safe though, as long as everything is cooked thoroughly. Even meat that has been recalled is usually nothing to panic over if you've cooked it properly. Salmonella is actually fairly common, for example.

It's more of a serious threat when it's found on things that aren't usually cooked before eating, like when they have a lunch meat recall.


@browncoat - Apparently that's one of the huge problems that is happening right now with reusable shopping bags. Because people have never been in the habit of using them before they don't realize they really need to wash them out regularly, particularly if they use them to carry meat. Even without food recalls meat products can have harmful bacteria on them that is intended to be killed when the meat is cooked. And that bacteria basically gets smeared all over the reusable bag which is then used to carry any number of other items.

It's nothing to panic over or to make you go back to disposable bags. Just use common sense and either disinfect or wash out reusable bags when it's appropriate.

But this is something to remember if you are ever involved in a meat recall. That meat probably touched various things on its way to the pan or freezer and they should all be treated as contaminated.


A meat recall always makes me very nervous because people have a tendency to buy meat and then eat it on the same day. And there are problems with meat that could take years to be discovered by doctors, like parasites that don't make themselves known until they mature and so forth.

Then you've got the problem that people will often put meat products in the same supermarket bags with other things like fruit or even just packaging that will be handled and the bacteria can spread even without eating the meat.

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    • Processed deli meat is often recalled.
      Processed deli meat is often recalled.
    • Meat department at a grocery store.
      By: Kondor83
      Meat department at a grocery store.
    • Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.
      By: Bill
      Some salmonellosis outbreaks have been linked to raw chicken.
    • E. coli is a common mean contaminant.
      By: Michael Gray
      E. coli is a common mean contaminant.