Tyson Foods, one of the largest food producers in the world, is having a problem.
Over the course of 2019, the company has issued four separate recalls for its frozen chicken products (one of which was expanded to be much larger). In each case, the problem was “foreign objects,” meaning something ended up in the chicken that’s not supposed to be there.
Let’s start from the beginning! On January 29, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the department responsible for food recalls, announced a recall of more than 36,000 pounds of frozen chicken nuggets. Consumer complaints revealed that some of these nuggets—sold nationwide—were contaminated with bits of rubber.
On March 21, the FSIS posted a recall for over 69,000 pounds of various flavors of frozen breaded chicken strips. Those chicken strips caused consumer complaints of contamination with bits of metal. They were shipped nationwide, but used for “institutional use” in Michigan and Washington. “Institutional use” means they were part of meals paid for in part by the government; examples would include school and prison meals.
On May 4, the FSIS dramatically expanded that frozen breaded chicken strip recall. In addition to the 69,000 pounds in the initial recall, the expanded version included a whopping 11.76 million pounds of these chicken strips. Turns out they were also sent for institutional use nationwide, including to the Department of Defense, and were even exported to Hong Kong, Bermuda, and St. Maarten.
Not done yet! On June 7, the FSIS posted another recall for frozen “chicken fritters,” to the tune of over 190,000 pounds. The adulteration this time? “Hard plastic.” These fritters caused complaints specifically from schools, which had purchased them for lunches.
And now, most recently, we have the August 15 recall of more than 39,000 pounds of frozen breaded chicken patties, sold under the Weaver brand but produced by Tyson. Exactly what was in these patties has not been revealed; the release simply says “extraneous materials.”
Each of these recalls was given a Class 1 status by the FSIS. From the FSIS’s definition of Class 1 recalls: “This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.” In each case, the FSIS strongly recommends throwing any of the affected products away, or returning to their place of purchase.
Each of the recalled products were produced in different locations: one in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; one in New Holland, Pennsylvania; one in Rogers, Arkansas; and one in Sedalia, Missouri. This doesn’t seem to be an instance where one factory is responsible for a number of screwups. But all are classified, by the FSIS, as Tyson Poultry facilities. This is a significant uptick in Tyson “foreign material” recalls; in 2018, there was only one. The newest recall makes four this year, and it’s only August.
We’ve reached out to Tyson to find out why foreign objects keep ending up in frozen chicken products, but have yet to hear back.