- General Mills has expanded its flour recall to include more production dates after confirming four new illnesses linked to consuming raw flour contaminated with strains of E. coli.
- General Mills has conducted proactive flour testing, and health officials are using whole genome sequencing to trace the illnesses, which led to the latest illness reports and recall expansion.
- All consumers sickened by the flour have eaten it raw.
"At this time, it is unknown if we are experiencing a higher prevalence of E. coli in flour than normal, if this is an issue isolated to General Mills' flour, or if this is an issue across the flour industry," according to a news release. "The newer detection and genome sequencing tools are also possibly making a connection to flour that may have always existed at these levels."
That's a notable point, as General Mills may be bearing the brunt of an issue that impacts the entire flour industry. The flour industry has grappled with how to combat safety concerns for the agricultural product that consumers may eat raw, often as dough for baked goods.
Heat treatment and irradiation are two options. But manufacturers say heat treatment disrupts the functionality of flour for baking purposes. And the FDA has approved irradiation for eliminating pests for several foods, but not at a level high enough to kill microorganisms, such as E. coli.
The FDA has launched a campaign warning consumers about the dangers of consuming raw flour. Even if E. coli is present, cooking the flour will kill the microorganisms, so health officials and General Mills have stressed that consumers throw away recalled flour products and properly cook any flour before consuming it. More flour manufacturers may want to get involved in a campaign to inform consumers not to eat their products raw, as it would be in their better interest to prevent their own recalls in the future.
In the meantime, General Mills' recall continues to expand, including across the country and overseas to China. It has also spread to other products in General Mills' portfolio, such as Betty Crocker cake mixes, and other brands outside the company, such as Continental Mills Inc. pancake mix. All products used the recalled flour as an ingredient.
Neverending recalls can be a nightmare scenario for manufacturers. They have to perform reputation damage control for the company and brand while also spending more money on implementing the recall, testing products and facilities, and sharing information with consumers and regulators. This situation highlights the importance of food safety risk assessments, traceability in the supply chain and having a plan to rebound from a recall, especially one that keeps expanding.