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Reprocessed Food: How Much is Too Much Contamination?

A few days ago, our Illinois personal injury attorneys contemplated the abject horror of a situation in which moldy applesauce was reprocessed and repackaged for sale to consumers. Following these findings by the FDA, reports have surfaced that Snokist, the liable food manufacturer of applesauce, isn’t the only company engaging in this kind of behavior.

Our Chicago personal injury attorneys were very concerned to hear that, according to MSNBC, “reworking” imperfect, mislabeled and even contaminated foods into edible goods to be sold to consumers is so common that virtually all producers do it, at least to some extent.

But who is regulating the health of these products? To some extent, FDA regulations do permit foods to be reconditioned. Allowing companies to do this can avoid both waste and expense, but in reality, these practices are tolerated for an entirely different purpose: certain levels of expected contaminants are tolerated, simply because a zero-tolerance standard would be impossible to meet, officials said.

The FDA has what’s known as “default action levels,” which are the levels at which food is no longer acceptable to be put on the market. However, so long as food products remain below that point, they may be sold to consumers for consumption. For instance, an average of 225 insect fragments or 4.5 rodent hairs per 8 ounces of macaroni or noodle products is considered acceptable, an average of 20 or more maggots of any size is permitted per 3.5 ounces of drained canned mushrooms, and an average count of 15 percent is tolerated for canned cranberry sauce, according to MSNBC.

Sometimes, however, the inclusions may not be so repugnant: mislabeled flavors of ice cream have been mixed into other flavors of ice cream to avoid waste, and pastas may be ground down to be used in producing breakfast cereals. Nevertheless, no matter the way in which food is reprocessed, the end product must be safe for human consumption.

There are some contaminants and inclusions that just can’t be fixed. In particular, mold – which was the culpable impurity in the reprocessed applesauce – is very difficult to remove from food products, no matter how much, or at what temperature, the food is reprocessed. And as per MSNBC‘s report, the FDA investigated a case in which a seafood manufacturing corporation with faulty bathroom practices led to dissemination of a canned crab product that contaminated fecal E. coli bacteria. Although heat-treating would have eradicated the live germs, there is no way to get rid of the remnants of human waste.

In 2010 alone, an estimated 177 food products were recalled because they were unfit for consumption – meaning, they were above the acceptable level of contaminants. 2011 seems to be following the same trend. When products that are marketed to consumers cause injury or illness to those customers, the companies responsible for producing the foods may be held liable for the damages resulting form those injuries and an Illinois personal injury lawsuit may arise. Illnesses from foodborne injuries have the potential to have devastating long-term effects.

In a similar vein, our Chicago personal injury lawyers were successful in obtaining a $4 million settlement on behalf of three attendees at a national convention who contracted salmonella poisoning, leading to crippling arthritic injuries.