- A recent General Mills flour recall has brought the complexity of recalls and food safety into focus. Consumers ate the E. coli-contaminated flour raw, typically in dough form, when the heat from baking would have likely killed the pathogen.
- Advocates have called for better consumer education about the risks of eating raw flour, a raw agricultural product that could be exposed to microbiological pathogens; warning labels for raw flour; or preventive production techniques, such as heat treatment or irradiation, that could kill pathogens before the product reaches consumers.
- Companies argue that heat treatment disrupts the functionality of flour for baking purposes. The FDA has approved irradiation for eliminating pests for several foods, such as produce and beef, but the agency has not yet approved the high amount of irradiation needed to kill microorganisms, such as E. coli.
The flour recall demonstrates how sometimes, the industry has limited options for how to prevent consumer exposure to pathogens in food.
The question is whether manufacturers should be responsible for printing warning labels on packaging that informs consumers about these risks. The expense of reformulating the label combined with potential lost sales may outweigh any potential benefit of appearing more transparent.
And companies don't seem to have much choice on the production end if heat treatment impacts flour's functionality and irradiation for microorganisms isn't yet FDA-approved. The agency instead has said that companies can petition the FDA to request permission to irradiate their products on an individual basis.
But for companies hoping to adhere to a clean label, this option isn't as clear cut either. Though the FDA and a Brazilian study suggest that irradiation is safe and doesn't negatively impact raw flour, the FDA regulates irradation as an additive, which could impact certifications and label claims such as "natural" or "organic." Also, irradiation comes at an additional production cost.
With the industry at a standstill, experts told Food Safety News that this won't be the last raw flour recall.