Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

April 21, 2023

Reading Between the Lines of Recalls

This week, I received another call from a local meat processor who was forced to recall a product by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Over the last year, I have received several of these calls from frustrated, small, family-owned businesses who have never had a problem before. The department seems to have taken an aggressive approach to inspection and recall, rather than inspection and education.
I fully support the inspection process in our food industry. I believe it is important for processors to have rules and regulations to follow so that consumers are safe and protected. All of the meat processors and food supply companies I know are eager to comply with these rules and regulations. They want to produce a good, high-quality product that consumers want to buy. This is how they grow successful businesses!
But lately, DATCP has taken a punitive approach to inspection and has issued recalls of products for reasons that have very little to do with product safety. They are scaring people away from shopping at their local meat markets and creating fear about food safety when the recalls are actually about paperwork.
Next time you see a recall notice for your local meat market, please ask them what it was for before you shop somewhere else. Read between the lines of the confusing recall announcement and vague news report by simply asking the business for an explanation.
You may be very surprised to learn that the recall was issued because the market did not have an approved recipe for wrapping a pork tenderloin with a slice of bacon before they vacuum sealed it. You may scratch your head about the fact that the recall was issued because an inspector didn’t view the pork tenderloin with the bacon on it – but they did inspect the tenderloin and the bacon separately.  
Prem Meats recently issued the following statement related to this recall: the recall was “issued after a clerical error resulted in the above listed products formulas from being properly submitted to the state for approval. While Prem Meats does not agree with the level of this recall we recommend following the inspectors advice and disposing of the products mentioned in the recall. These products are deemed safe for consumption independently however Prem Meats does not have an approved recipe for wrapping bacon around beef or pork products therefore were advised the product was to be recalled. These products never left our store shelves, a simple label change has been made and it is now safe to consume.”
Let me repeat that, a label change has made it safe to consume. There was no risk to anyone’s health. Nobody is ill. Nothing is wrong with the product. But the business is still affected.
When a business is spotlighted for a recall like this, customers become worried that the meat in their freezer is tainted. They call to express concern about beef that is hanging at the processor. They wonder about the quality of the product at that market. A recall casts doubt and creates fear – when it may have nothing to do with quality or safety. It’s often about paperwork.
Read between the lines.  In 2023, there have already been seven recalls. This follows a banner year in 2022 when 20 recalls were issued, 18 of which occurred in the second and third quarters of the year.  Compare this to 2019-2021 when a total of 11 recalls were issued over the three-year period! What has changed?
I recognize that DATCP is tasked with enforcing Federal laws when it comes to inspection. However, I also know that leadership of an organization can determine how they approach this role. There is a massive difference between inspecting and educating versus inspecting and recalling.
If a product is a health risk, it should be recalled. If a processor is not following the law, the inspector should work with them to be compliant. If a bunch of processors are all doing paperwork wrong, as was the case with a paperwork issue related to small batches of lard, then DATCP should reach out to all processors and educate them.
Unfortunately, this is not happening.
The legislature has made large investments in meat processing grants to encourage new meat processors and entrepreneurs in Wisconsin. DATCP has been promoting this out of one side of their mouth, while taking aggressive punitive action out of the other.
Again, I believe we need strong regulations and standards for our food processors. They want this too. But they also want a good partner in DATCP who will work with them to correct issues, not seek opportunities to punish them. These recalls are costing small, local, family-owned businesses thousands of dollars and creating needless fear and uncertainty for their customers.  We need a new approach.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.