Nestlé's "frown free zone" is in need of a bit of an overhaul. The makers of Nesquik have recalled 200,000+ cans of its chocolatey drink over concerns of salmonella contamination this week.
The Associated Press reports that Nestlé's ingredient supplier, Omaya, Inc., recalled some of its calcium carbonate for fear of contamination. Since that carbonate is used in Nesquik, Nestlé followed suit. All canisters manufactured in October with a use-by date of October 2014 should be avoided.
Salmonella contamination in a kids' drink is likely to put fear in the hearts of parents—and with good reason. But the unfortunate reality is that salmonella recalls are commonplace. Just two weeks ago, we reported that Smuckers Uncrustables were being pulled from store shelves because of a potential salmonella risk. A month prior, Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter was recalled for the same reasons. A month before that, tainted mangoes were the edible to avoid.
Recall alerts have become so common, experts have suggested they're achieving the opposite of their desired effect: Consumers are becoming accustomed to them. Foods have been plucked from store shelves for a number of alarming reasons, from containing lead or glass bits, to being suspected of the life-threatening foodborne illness E. coli. From late April to June 20 of 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sounded off on foodborne illness threats 41 times. Forty-one times!
In part, that's good news: More recalls translate to improved diligence in product oversight and testing. But it's also alarming. Foodborne illness is no casual matter. Take salmonella for example: At the very least, it can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and a fever. For babies, pregnant women, and the elderly, it can be deadly. E. coli can be fatally harmful too, as Barbara Kowalcyk, a mother who lost her son to E. coli, can attest.
So what's the deal with so many recalls, and how can we keep people safe? In August, Nancy Pelosi did not mince words when she called the Republican party "the E. coli club." The party's failure to commit needed dollars to food safety measures, she said, is putting us all at risk. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack admitted a shortage of resources in January of this year, noting that the FDA has just 10,000 employees to monitor food safety and a myriad of other consumer products, from medical devices to pets to cosmetics.
But while increased funds for the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would certainly help curb the problem, the issue of outbreaks is not solely a partisan one. A core component of constant outbreaks is the rampant growth and industrialization of the food system. With highly mechanized production, overcrowded factory farms, and a break-neck speed of consumption, it's no wonder outbreaks are skyrocketing.
As for Nesquik, no one's been sickened thus far—at least not from salmonella. But there's another health risk to consider: The drink's primary ingredient is sugar, making it a questionable drink of choice for a population of kids whose obesity rates are at record highs. Even if the drink's October batch turns up harmless, there's the fact that the chocolate drink is, essentially, junk food. Twenty percent of young children are considered obese today—triple the rates of 30 years ago. And obesity brings its own health ailments, from death (400,000 obesity-related deaths occur each year) to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
With side dishes like those, a glass of organic juice or water might be a better bet.