- General Mills tripled its flour recall to 30 million pounds last week. Five days later, the recall expanded to China. The root cause of the E. coli contamination remains a mystery.
- The Centre for Food Safety in China’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department posted a warning that consumers should not consume certain bags of Gold Medal flour, but did not mention the severity of the outbreak, which has sickened at least 42 people.
- The flour recall has impacted companies beyond General Mills because other manufacturers used the flour as an ingredient in their own products. Most recently, these included a nationwide recall for pancake mix made by Continental Mills Inc.
As the recall expands, the reach of its damage continues to grow. This recall may have an additional cost in the long term, impacting relationships General Mills has with other manufacturers. Further, not being able to identify the source of the contamination could be even more challenging to overcome when trying to convince customers — consumers and other manufacturers — that the facilities are safe once again.
General Mills' flour recall also calls to mind the complications of recalls that extend to other countries. In this case, China has already been contending with food safety issues, and consumers there often turn to foreign brands to avoid domestic food safety concerns. Associating General Mills' flour brand with those food safety scares could be damaging in that market.
While the elusive contamination source is concerning, it is not uncommon in food recalls. Late last month, CRF Frozen Foods admitted it was unable to identify the source of the listeria contamination at its Pasco, WA, plant that led to the company recalling more than 350 frozen food products under 42 brand names in April. The company said it was shifting its focus to securing the federal approvals required to resume production.
Using DNA evidence, FDA investigators linked the contamination to General Mills' plant in Kansas City, MO. The company has reported all negative test results for the outbreak strain since May 31, when the company launched the initial recall of 10 million pounds of flour under the Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens, and Wondra brands. It's unclear how long the company and investigators will continue to hunt for the contamination source.