Food recalls have dropped during the pandemic, but experts aren’t sure which of a variety of possible causes is behind the lower numbers.
NPR reports that the total number of USDA product recalls in 2020 was 32, compared with 126 in 2019. As of Dec. 28, there were 47 recalls in 2021. With FDA inspections, the drop is lower but still there: 495 in 2020 and 427 in 2021, compared with 526 in 2019. (Those figures include recalls of cosmetic products.) The USDA inspects meat and eggs, and the FDA, everything else.
Industry observers interviewed by NPR suggested several possible causes for the drop in cases, including meat processing plants being shut down in the early stages of the pandemic, presenting fewer opportunities for problem product, and disruptions in consumer behavior that made them less likely to report foodborne illness.
Actual food-related illness also seems to be down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infections from eight pathogens commonly transmitted through food declined by 29% between 2019 and 2020 among the large slice of the U.S. population, about 15%, that the CDC regularly monitors in an ongoing program called FoodNet.