The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), established in 1981, is tasked with inspecting and ensuring the safety of eggs, cattle, pigs, sheep, and other animals used for human food.
When the FSIS finds something worrisome in your chicken or beef, they will notify the producer or distributor who will then institute a recall. These recalls are then classified (Class I, II, and III) by the FSIS and made public information.
What is the difference between Class I, II, and III recalls?
The main difference between all classes of FSIS recalls is the probability that the affected products will cause injury or death to consumers. The FSIS has no power to institute a recall, these are voluntary on the part of the producer or distributor, but the agency may freeze production and seize questionable food products when companies refuse to recall a good.
Class I Recall
Class I recalls are distinguished by a "reasonable probability" that consuming the recalled products "will cause health problems or death." This includes products which are potentially contaminated with dangerous forms of E. coli (such as E. coli O157:H7).
A Class I recall also requires a "recall release" from the FSIS, where information about the recall is posted both online and distributed to the media. A recent example was the May recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef first recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef due of E. coli poisoning.
Class II Recall
The FSIS will also issue a recall release for a Class II recall, but the potential danger to consumers is less pressing. These recalls involve potential health hazard situations in which there is a "remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food."
These may be cases where small amounts of allergens or foreign material are present (e.g., wheat or soy) and there likely have been no reports of illnesses or injuries related to the products.
Class III Recall
Class III recalls involve no possibility of adverse health consequences from eating the food product, but a recall was still necessary. For these recalls, the FSIS will issue a Recall Notification Report, which is available online -- but not sent to media or wire services. These recalls may include labeling or packaging errors that have no affect on health.
Check out the FSIS website for the latest meat-related recalls.