The FDA announced a recall of fresh tuna steaks distributed to Shaw’s, Star Market and Big Y grocery stores by North Coast Sea-Foods Corp. of Boston and New Bedford. The alleged problem was increased levels of histamine that might cause scombroid poisoning. The tuna was removed from sale on June 24, but consumers who might have frozen the steaks were told to return them to the stores for a full refund. We again assume that North Coast (and its insurers) will be funding the refunds.
What made me write about this recall was a rather silly poll in DailyKos. The question was whether the increase in recalls was due to the food supply becoming less safe or that the FDA was getting better. Like many online polls, this so oversimplified the situation that I thought I should write about it, and the North Coast tuna recall seemed as good a vehicle as any.
The three reported cases of scombroid poisoning associated with this tuna would presumably have been reported to local public health officials in New England, not the FDA. Or they might have been reported to the markets, which in turn would have easily been able to identify the source of the tuna and reported to North Coast (scombroid poisoning occurs almost immediately, so there isn’t the usual problem of figuring out what food might have caused a delayed reaction). Both the markets and North Coast will have significant food safety programs. Some of this will be the result of government action, and some of it the result of simply caring about their customers. There is no indication that this outbreak was the result of anyone’s inattention or failure.
It took me awhile to identify that I had the right North Coast Sea-Foods Corp., because their name is spelled differently in the release. In doing my research, I discovered some nice things about them, such as that they had argued strenuously against a Department of Defense initiative to buy cheaper, and potentially more hazardous fish for our troops, on the grounds of food safety. Another thing I learned was that they had installed solar power at their Boston facility, and considered wind power at their New Bedford facility. We at Stoel are not just committed to renewable energy, we literally wrote the book on it. So, similar to the Fat Duck and Nestle, even those committed to doing the right thing can sometimes be the subject of a food recall.