- Kellogg has voluntarily recalled Honey Smacks cereal after reports that it may be contaminated with salmonella, the company stated. According to Reuters, about 1.3 million cases of cereal are involved in this recall.
- So far, 73 people in 31 states have reported illnesses related to the cereal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those affected, 24 have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths. Victims first became ill between March 3 and May 28. They range in age from less than one year to 87, with a median age of 58.
- The affected cereal was distributed across the United States, as well as in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, the Caribbean, Guam, Tahiti and Saipan, Kellogg says on a webpage about the recall. Boxes of the cereal are both 15.3 oz and 23 oz, with UPC codes of 38000 39103 or 38000 14810. The best if used by date on the package is between June 14, 2018 and June 14, 2019.
While Kellogg and other manufacturers struggle to get consumers to pour themselves a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a recall this serious and widespread does not help the category's popularity. But it leaves many more questions about consumer safety unanswered.
According to the CDC, people have been getting sick from this batch of cereal for more than three months. The outbreak has spread to more than half of the nation's states, and the cereal has traveled thousands of miles to other countries. The CDC only has information on specific illnesses for 55 people, and 44% of them have been hospitalized. So why are consumers only hearing about this outbreak now?
The CDC outlines the process for determining whether an illness was caused by a food, then researches and tests to determine the specific kind of bacteria causing it. From the initial sickness until the strain can be serotyped and given a "DNA fingerprint," the process could take up to 28 days. While this is a long and painstaking process, the timeline doesn't explain why this outbreak has been growing over three months without a formal announcement or recall. Considering how widespread the illness is, it's likely that the potential size and scope had been known for some time. An earlier announcement may have slowed the spread.
And how does cereal get contaminated with salmonella? The pathogen is found in animal feces, and animal-derived products — including meat and eggs — are most at risk. The best way to protect consumers from the bacteria is to fully cook food items. But food items that aren't derived from animals — like flour, which had a massive recall two years ago when General Mills' brands were contaminated with E. coli — also see the bacteria killed when the ingredients are cooked.
Honey Smacks cereal is fully cooked when purchased, and it's unclear how the cereal could have become contaminated with salmonella. This may indicate a larger issue with the cleanliness of the factory or processes where the cereal was made. It's not known which factory the cereal came from, but inspections under the Food Safety Modernization Act should have discovered any risks — and if Kellogg were following the tenets of FSMA, it presumably already had plans to address this type of issue.
The silver lining to this contamination may be that it hasn't affected many children yet. Even though Honey Smacks is a cereal targeted at kids, the victims' ages skew more toward adults. At least half of the victims are in their late 50s or older. According to the CDC, children are the most at risk of salmonella infection, and they tend to have more severe reactions. However, older adults are also at great risk, and considering the oldest victim is 87, a large number of them could be in that age group.
The CDC cautions that more illnesses could be added to this outbreak in coming weeks, given the long timeline of identifying related cases. It's unknown if more information distributed sooner could have resulted in fewer total victims, demonstrating the government's need for speed in disseminating information about outbreaks.