From wood to salmonella, 2019 has been a rough year for nugget fans.
Any college student or fast food connoisseur will tell you that chicken nuggets are a godsend. We may not know exactly what part of the chicken that the nugget corresponds with (and frankly, we probably don’t want to), but somehow these miraculous morsels provide anyone with a microwave or access to a fast food restaurant with a little bite of heaven. But recently, quality control seems to have fallen by the wayside, forcing recalls and generally causing concern about the state of North America’s nuggets.
The problems started in late January, when a variety of foreign objects seem to have found their way into the chicken nuggets of multiple manufacturers. Tyson had to recall a whopping 36,000 pounds of chicken nuggets from grocery store shelves at the behest of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service because “extraneous materials, specifically rubber” made their way into five pound packages of panko white meat chicken nuggets with a “best by” date of November 26th, 2019. Around that time, Perdue voluntarily recalled roughly 68,000 pounds of their “SimplySmart Organics Gluten Free Chicken Nugget Products” after three consumers complained that they’d found wood in the product. Even though a lot of gluten-free food seems to taste like wood, it turns out you’re not supposed to actually find it in your food.
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Somewhat ironically, Perdue recalled other nuggets because of an ingredient that was supposed to be there but was left off of the label. Not long after the wood incident, more than 16,000 pounds of the company’s dinosaur-shaped chicken breast nuggets were made extinct via USDA recall. Why? The packaging failed to mention that they contained milk, a known allergen. Based on evidence from a USDA press release, it sounds like Perdue simply placed the incorrect back label on the product, an issue thankfully reported by a retailer rather than any customers with a milk allergy who found out the hard way.
While disappointing and perhaps a bit unnerving, it’s important to note that none of these recalls led to any reported illnesses or hospitalizations by the time their recall was issued. But that’s not the case with a new salmonella outbreak sweeping across Canada that’s been tied to chicken nuggets. On February 27th, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a public health notice urging consumers to toss any 1.5 kg packages of Sofina Foods’ Compliments brand chicken nuggets with a “best before” date of July 28th, 2019. It follows a month after Crisp & Delicious chicken nuggets (another Sofina brand) were recalled for their own supposed links to salmonella.
According to the CFIA, there have been 59 reported cases of Salmonella spanning provinces from British Columbia to Newfoundland. While no deaths have been reported through the end of February, the CFIA affirms that “Frozen raw breaded chicken products” have been identified as a source of this outbreak.
So what should smart nugget consumers do? Definitely discard any of the products mentioned above. It might seem overly cautious in the case of those foreign ingredients, but it’s absolutely necessary if you’re a Canadian who doesn’t want to suffer through salmonella symptoms like fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Given that these nugget recalls have affected consumers in more than one country, it’s hard to necessarily blame the lax regulatory environment that some blamed during the great romaine lettuce E.coli scare of 2018. Sometimes, big agribusinesses make mistakes. The best workaround would be to cut their products out of your life by seeking out more locally-sourced poultry (if possible), or—god forbid—give up chicken nuggets entirely.