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Wacky World of Rubber: Food recalls are no joke for rubber industry

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WASHINGTON—Every day, the rubber industry is making news and reaching nearly every aspect of our lives. Still, there is one area where the industry would prefer to steer clear: Food recalls.

That's easier said than done.

There isn't specific data to show exactly how often food is recalled because of rubber contamination or what kind of rubber is involved, especially since companies and the government often don't share what the source of the contamination may have been, though equipment malfunction seems to be the most likely culprit.

In fact, you have to go back to Feb. 16, 2018, to find a recall notice that states where unwanted rubber in food may have come from. On that day, Pilgrim's Pride Corp. of Waco, Texas, recalled 101,310 pounds of Gold Kist Farms Fully Cooked Whole Grain Home-Style Breaded Chicken Patties that had been distributed to schools and other institutions.

"Although the product was sold through the USDA commodity program, the introduction of the foreign material was due to an equipment failure at the facility," the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service said.

This incident is one of several from the past year

More recent information provided by FSIS indicates that there were three instances of rubber-contaminated food recalls January 2019 alone.

The most recent was on Jan. 29, when Tyson Foods Inc. recalled 36,420 pounds of Tyson's Fully Cooked Panko Chicken Nuggets, shipped in five-pound bags to club store distribution centers throughout the U.S. The reason? "A small number" of consumers contacted Tyson to complain they found small pieces of soft blue rubber in the nuggets, the company said.

Neither Tyson nor the FSIS speculated on how the rubber might have entered the nuggets.

Just 10 days earlier, Johnsonville L.L.C., the Wisconsin-based sausage maker, recalled 48,371 pounds of Johnsonville Grillers—Cheddar Cheese and Bacon Flavor pork patties—after three consumers told Johnsonville that the black bits in the patties proved unexpectedly chewy.

And on Jan. 9, J.H. Routh Packing Co. in Sandusky, Ohio, recalled 1,719 pounds of raw ground pork bulk and link sausage that may have been contaminated with rubber, FSIS said.

However, there's no question the rubber industry would prefer that any disgruntled quips about "rubber chicken" be confined to the latest meeting of the Kiwanis Club.