Kraft Foods says it is recalling more than 6.5 million boxes of its iconic original-flavor “Macaroni and Cheese Dinner.” The company says numerous consumers reported finding metal pieces in the packages. The affected boxes have a “Best When Used By” date of Sept. 18 through Oct. 11, 2015, and the manufacturing code “C2” printed below the date.
A company spokesperson told Marketplace via email it is, “too early to speculate about the cost of this action.” Large recalls can run up costs in the tens of millions of dollars for a company — including lost revenue, inventory and production, as well as damage to brand reputation. Some of that cost may be covered by insurance.
The system for food-safety product recalls in the U.S. has changed in the past several years, following passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. When a food company — like Kraft — receives complaints from consumers or reports of food-borne illness, or it discovers contamination at a production facility in its supply chain, it notifies the FDA and consumers, and voluntarily recalls the product. If a food-safety problem is identified by the FDA and the company does not comply with a request for a voluntary recall, FSMA allows the FDA to order a recall.
Mac ‘n cheese noodles make great art supplies, but just make sure to check your recalled Kraft boxes for metal first.
Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety, a consumer-advocacy group, says there is still more work to be done to ensure that mass-produced food sold in America is safe.
“The recent announcement (by Kraft) is a reminder of just how fragile our food-safety system is here in the U.S.,” he says. “Increasingly, responses to food-safety concerns are more motivated by PR and marketplace interests, than by public health concerns.”
But industry analyst Jim Hertel at food consultancy Willard Bishop in Chicago believes Americans are generally satisfied with the largely-voluntary system of food-safety monitoring and enforcement. His company does consulting work for Kraft and other food manufacturers.
“There is a level of confidence that the U.S. inspection regimen basically has gotten it right,” he says.
Hertel says most consumers understand that contaminated food does make its way into grocery-store and restaurant food occasionally. But he believes these incidents sow more fear in consumers when they are caused by a microbe or dangerous chemical, rather than (as with Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese) a chip of metal, possibly left by a flaw in the manufacturing process.
“The things that consumers can’t see are sometimes more terrifying than the things they can see,” Hertel says. “When it’s a biological or bacterial agent, I think there’s a lot more fear, uncertainty and doubt that creeps into the consumer’s mind.”