The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about our everyday lives for the worse. But what about those things that have, strangely and counterintuitively, improved over the course of the past (nearly) two years? It’s worth looking at the hows and whys of such improvement, and not for the silver lining value. (Believe me, I’m no fan of bucking up for the sake of it, or what’s now being labelled toxic positivity If things are bad, I’m better off dealing with it directly…) We can learn about supply chains and other circumstances that can inform our return to “normal”… Whenever that might be.
Take, for example, the turn of events currently stumping the FDA and USDA. These American food safety agencies have logged a downturn in food recalls over 2020 and 2021. The FDA issued 427 recalls in 2021 and 495 in 2020, down from 526 and 585 in the previous two years. The USDA’s recalls numbered 128 in 2020 and 126 in 2021, way down from 2018’s 585 and 2019’s 526. And both organizations are trying to brainstorm why.
“Recalls occur for a variety of reasons, including the discovery of foodborne pathogens as well as mislabeling that fails to alert consumers to the presence of possible allergens, such as nuts.
But in the opening days of the pandemic, the nation’s early detection system was knocked partially offline. Many meat processors, for example, closed down after scores of workers tested positive for the coronavirus, which could have created fewer opportunities for recalls at the USDA if food production was on hold.
[Professor of agriculture Ben] Chapman noted that many of the FDA recalls that did occur were because of allergens, a spike that may be attributed to behavior changes caused by the pandemic.
For example, he said, restaurants that were closed may have no longer needed a 30-pound box of chicken breasts, so producers instead turned that into smaller packages to sell directly to consumers in grocery stores.
‘That change of scrambling for more labels to print, scrambling to think about different packaging, could lead to confusion within the supply chain,’ he said.”
I’m glad this recall dip has gone against the phenomenon of more occurrences simply because more folks are there to observe them – like the uptick in weird pet behaviours, or reports of hauntings. No matter what the reason turns out to be, I’m all for results that mean fewer people got sick or had allergic reactions. (Man, add that to the list of things adding insult to pandemic injury!) It will be interesting to see if the FDA and USDA report a similar dip for 2022 – and if they can unravel the mystery to keep it going in the non-pandemic future.