Hometown Food Co. recalled two lots — about 12,245 cases — of 5-pound packages of Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose Flour because it might be contaminated with salmonella. The company said only Best If Used By Dates of April 19, 2020 and April 20, 2020 were impacted.
The two recalled lots — 8 292 and 8 293 — were distributed through a limited number of retailers and distributors nationwide, the company said. According to The New York Times, the recalled cases were mainly sold to the Publix supermarket chain and to Winn-Dixie markets, which have outlets in the Southeast U.S.
The Times reported the recall was prompted by a random inspection that found salmonella traces in one bag of the flour. A Food and Drug Administration spokesman told the newspaper no one had reported becoming ill from consuming the recalled flour.
While Hometown Food emphasized this recall was voluntary, finding salmonella traces in a random bag of flour is obviously not good news, and most responsible companies would respond the same way. No manufacturer wants to risk someone getting sick or dying from consuming contaminated products.
Salmonella is often linked to eggs or poultry, but it is resilient and adaptable and can also contaminate other types of foods, including dry items such as flour. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates salmonella causes 1 million foodborne illnesses annually in the U.S.
This issue isn't isolated to Hometown Food. There have been two recent large-scale flour recalls, both from General Mills. One occurred in January, when the Minneapolis-based CPG company voluntarily issued a national recall of 5-pound bags of its Gold Medal Unbleached Flour with a single date code. General Mills also recalled 30 million pounds of its Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens, and Wondra brand flours in 2016, but that was for E. coli contamination, which sickened 63 people. The FDA eventually linked the problem to the company's production plant in Kansas City, Missouri.
General Mills and Hometown Food, along with the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, took the opportunity of these recalls to remind consumers that flour is a minimally processed food and should not be considered a ready-to-eat product. According to the North American Milling Association, flour is not intended to be consumed raw — hence all the periodic consumer warnings about not eating cookie dough, or any uncooked batter or cake mixes.
"The heat process of baking, frying, boiling, and cooking are adequate to destroy any pathogens that may be present in flour and eliminate any potential risk of foodborne illness," NAMA said.
Other recalls for salmonella have involved baked goods, but not necessarily flour. Flowers Foods voluntarily recalled rolls and bread last year because of the possible presence of salmonella in whey powder sourced from a third party. And Conagra Brands recalled a number of its Duncan Hines cake mixes last year because of a positive salmonella test result in a retail sample. In an update posted Jan. 31, the FDA said product and environmental samples taken at the production facility were negative for salmonella, and there wasn't enough information available to determine whether the seven people sickened in that outbreak had eaten the contaminated Duncan Hines cake mix.
Hometown Food appears to have acted promptly and appropriately in this case. The company has apologized and is offering customers replacement coupons for the recalled products. The salmonella risk may not extend beyond the two lots of Pillsbury flour already recalled, but that could depend on whether any related illnesses are reported and how the investigation proceeds.
Whenever flour is recalled, the issue can go on to impact downstream companies and their finished products. In the 2016 General Mills flour recall, the company expanded the recall to China, where at least 42 people were sickened. Pancake mix from Continental Mills and five other products containing the recalled flour were also recalled.
Recalls are very expensive and can tarnish a company's reputation for years, so in order for Hometown Food to regain consumer trust for its Pillsbury flour, it needs to make sure the problem has been traced back to the source and eradicated.