The safety of the U.S. food supply is one of the main mandates of the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When there are outbreaks of disease or illness across the country, these agencies investigate to determine if there is a common cause. Recalls of food products due to safety and sanitation issues are common, but some food manufacturers are so large that a recall can impact the entire country, causing millions of dollars in losses, including product destruction, sanitary improvements and health care costs. Here are the five largest food recalls in U.S. history.

SEE: America's Biggest Food Companies

Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Beef Recall
In February 2008, the culmination of an investigation into the slaughter practices of Hallmark/Westland in California resulted in the recall of 143 million pounds of beef, much of it destined for school lunch programs. The incident started with an undercover video, distributed by the Humane Society of the United States, that showed cows that were too ill to walk being included in the slaughter. This practice is banned under federal law to ensure that diseases, such as Mad Cow, do not enter the food supply. The company voluntarily recalled all beef produced at the facility from February 1, 2006 onward, but admitted that most of that meat likely had already been consumed. There were no reports of illness connected to this recall, but, because the animals were not properly inspected prior to slaughter, the Department of Agriculture pressured the company into the recall.

Peanut Corp.
Known as one of the largest food calls of all time, this company was found to have knowingly shipped products containing salmonella a dozen times between 2007 and 2008. It was the source of a virulent strain of salmonella that was later linked to eight deaths, and sickened over 600 people in 46 states and in Canada. Peanut Corp. not only made peanut butter, but also peanut meal and paste that were further processed by manufacturers into other foods. After the CDC and FDA inspectors identified the source of the contamination, it issued what became one of the largest food recalls ever, ultimately leading to more than 3,200 products being recalled. Peanut Corp. eventually had to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in February of 2009.

SEE: 5 Lessons From The World's Biggest Bankruptcies

The impact of the recall spread far beyond the boundaries of Peanut Corp. products. Consumers avoided many other brands of peanut butter that were not affected by the recall, which dropped sales of peanut products substantially in 2008 and 2009. This impacted many companies and organizations, including peanut farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and even food banks. Initial estimates of the financial damage to the peanut industry top $1 billion. Coupled with a failed peanut crop in Georgia in 2011, the damage to the industry may be permanent.

Wright County/Hillandale Farms Eggs
Salmonella was also at the base of the 2010 recall of over a half billion fresh eggs originating from the Iowa-based Wright County Egg and related company, Hillandale Farms. The CDC began investigating outbreaks of salmonella in early 2010 and eventually tracked it to the WrightCounty plant. The CDC noted over 1,900 reports of illness connected with the outbreak and thankfully, no deaths.

WATCH: 5 Ways To Cut Your Food Budget

The FDA developed and implemented new egg safety rules, but not in time to correct the poor sanitation at the WrightCounty businesses. A year prior to the recall, Wright's owner, Jack DeCoster, faced multiple counts of animal cruelty related to the treatment of chickens on his farms, and also paid millions of dollars in fines. After the recall, both WrightCounty and Hillandale improved their sanitation and animal health practices and continue to operate today.

Cargill Ground Turkey
Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation issued a recall of over 35 million pounds of ground turkey in August 2011 due to salmonella contamination. The contaminated meat was responsible for one death and the sickening of over 75 people. The plant shut down for a week and reopened only when it had found and corrected the source of contamination and had passed a Department of Agriculture inspection. In less than a month after re-opening, inspectors had a positive hit on the same salmonella strain in the company's ground turkey, prompting a much smaller recall.

SEE: 4 Rising Food Costs That Will Hurt Your Wallet

Menu Foods Pet Food
Food destined for pets can also contain adulterants, and that was the case in 2007 when Menu Foods Inc. recalled several brands of dog and cat food that were produced onsite. The issue was the wheat gluten included in these foods that came from a Chinese company. It was eventually determined that the gluten contained melamine, an industrial chemical used in the making of plastics. The identification of the problem took much longer than most human cases of illness because there is no unified reporting system for animal deaths and illnesses. As reports of kidney failure in dogs and cats started to be gathered by veterinary organizations, the FDA stepped in to investigate, ultimately tracing the food to the Menu plant in Canada. Reported animal deaths vary drastically, but the FDA received over 10,000 complaints, and were alerted of at least 14 deaths. In the end, two Chinese companies and their owners were indicted in U.S. federal court over the incident, as well as a U.S.-based wholesaler. Menu Foods Inc. was purchased by Simmons Pet Food in 2010.

The Bottom Line
Food recalls are a critical step in ensuring that the nation's food supply is safe. In many cases, large-scale recalls can bankrupt a company, not only in the food destroyed, but also due to the loss of confidence by consumers in its products. Collateral damage often occurs to other manufacturers in the same industry and to retail stores that sell the product.

Related Articles
  1. Investing News

    Farmers Markets—Gaining Ground in Grocery Sector

    Farmers markets have gained a solid foothold in the grocery sector, but it seems that large retailers will retain the lion's share of the industry.
  2. Home & Auto

    Luxury Cars with the Best Resale Value

    Autos rarely appreciate in value. But if you want a set of wheels that'll least hold its value over time, these cars can go the distance.
  3. Stock Analysis

    How Expensive Is Whole Foods, Really?

    Learn about Whole Foods Market, Inc., and discover how Whole Foods pricing actually compares to that of other grocery store operations.
  4. Stock Analysis

    4 Quick Service Restaurants for Your Portfolio

    Learn about the four quick service restaurants with attractive investment theses and growth prospects that can be valuable additions to your portfolio.
  5. Stock Analysis

    What Makes the 'Share a Coke' Campaign So Successful?

    Understand how Coca-Cola implemented the successful "Share a Coke" campaign. Learn about the top three reasons why the campaign was successful.
  6. Stock Analysis

    The 6 Best Dividend Stocks in the Consumer Staples Sector

    Learn about the top six companies that make an attractive investment for investors looking for stocks for dividend income investing.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Consumer Cyclical Mutual Funds

    Obtain information on, and analysis of, some of the best performing mutual funds that offer exposure to the consumer cyclicals sector.
  8. Chart Advisor

    Agriculture Commodities Are In The Bear's Sights

    Agriculture stocks have experienced strong moves higher over recent weeks, but chart patterns on sugar, corn and wheat are suggesting the moves could be short lived.
  9. Economics

    The 4 Countries That Produce the Most Food

    Learn about the four food superpowers -- China, India, the United States and Brazil -- and what sets them apart from the rest of the world.
  10. Investing

    Procter & Gamble Restructures, Sheds 100 Brands

    All businesses face adversity, and Procter & Gamble is no exception. We take a look at recent developments affecting this global giant.
  1. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the difference between an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and a VAR ...

    An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is a company that manufactures a basic product or a component product, such as a ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Is the retail sector also affected by seasonal factors?

    Generally speaking, the retail sector is highly seasonal. Almost invariably, sales in the retail sector are highest in the ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What has the retail sector evolved to its current structure?

    Retail is the catch-all phrase for the sale of final goods to consumers; a retail transaction is considered an "end" and ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why is product differentiation important in today's financial climate?

    Product differentiation is essential in today's financial climate. It allows the seller to contrast its own product with ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Ex Works (EXW)

    An international trade term requiring the seller to make goods ready for pickup at his or her own place of business. All ...
  2. Letter of Intent - LOI

    A document outlining the terms of an agreement before it is finalized. LOIs are usually not legally binding in their entirety. ...
  3. Purchasing Power

    The value of a currency expressed in terms of the amount of goods or services that one unit of money can buy. Purchasing ...
  4. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  5. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  6. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!