One of the more thrilling demands of writing about food for a living is having to comb the USDA’s food recall directory every few days. Spend some time with that page and you’ll discover that America is home to a great number of food recalls, some occurring for reasons that are cosmically bizarre. I'll never forget the case of hash browns laced with “extraneous golf ball materials.”
Earlier this month, the USDA developed a quicker, more streamlined way to get news of these recalls to a wider swath of consumers. The organization's FoodKeeper app, available for both iOS and Android, can now send you push notifications for food recalls when they happen. Simply toggle the feature that lets you “Allow Recall Notifications,” and the app will alert you in real time (or, if you’d prefer, a daily or weekly basis) about food recalls. This feature will give you the same information you'd find on the USDA website in the convenience of an app: How contained or widespread a food recall is, and whether you're affected.
I should add that the FoodKeeper, which has been around for two years now, is a real marvel of an app. The user experience is intuitive and certainly among the less frustrating of apps I’ve encountered; it also doesn’t swallow too much space on your phone. The app offers tutorials for cooking methods and storage timelines for food in freezers and pantries. You can even ask Karen, the USDA’s virtual assistant, questions about safe food handling and preparation. (If you don’t have a smartphone, head here to get some of this experience on your desktop.)
Getting push notifications for food recalls strikes me as a necessary product feature, both as a food writer and a hypochondriac. I’d like to be mindful of potential golf ball shavings in my frozen breakfast!
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What do you rely on as a resource for food safety? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.