Impossible Foods has issued a voluntary recall after a California restaurant found a piece of plastic in a bulk Impossible Burger product. Although the FDA has not mandated the recall for any food safety reason, Impossible Foods has ordered the recovery of the lot produced on Feb. 19, 2019 “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a spokesperson. It’s the first time the company behind the “bleeding” Impossible Burger has issued a recall of its restaurant-quality fake meat.
The company is asking all operators to throw away product with the lot number OAK19050000, which appears on product cases and on the five-pound packaged blocks of vegan burger. The Impossible Foods spokesperson notes that the company will compensate any distributor forced to get rid of product and that they are “taking preventative measures to ensure the safety of our product and the operations of our food manufacturing plant.” The product was not served to anyone.
Since 2016, Impossible Foods has put the Impossible Burger on restaurant menus, starting with David Chang’s Nishi in New York City and extending to massive chains like White Castle. It’s now served at more than 5,000 restaurants in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Macau. The Impossible Burger will also start appearing in grocery stores this year: In January, Impossible Food announced it changed the recipe for its burger to make it easier for home cooks to use and to increase its nutritional value. (Plastic is not one of the new ingredients.)
Impossible Foods wants to “save the earth,” as it so humbly puts on its website, through reducing the world’s meat consumption: CEO Pat Brown is also thinking beyond the burger and plans to devise substitutes for steak and other cuts of beef. But safety has been a secondary selling point for the brand: The company overcame its initial battle with the FDA to declare heme, the ingredient that makes the meat “bloody,” safe for human consumption, and in a Medium post relaying all of heme’s benefits, Brown pointed out the fake meat is made from “simple plant ingredients that people have been cooking with and eating safely for thousands of years.” But as the company grows, recalls like this one are, perhaps, inevitable.
Thousands of food products are recalled each year due to foodborne illnesses or other contamination, and we’re getting better at detecting when something goes wrong with production chains, so it seems like they’re happening even more frequently. In December, 12 million pounds of beef from Arizona producer JBS Tolleson were recalled due to salmonella concerns. This followed a recall of more than 100,000 pounds of ground beef from a Colorado meat producer in September. That time it was due to an E. coli outbreak that caused 18 illnesses and one death.
While Impossible Foods’s fake meat has a number of qualities to recommend it over beef, including using fewer land and water resources, as Impossible Foods grows, being immune from recalls isn’t necessarily one of them. Thankfully, a foodborne illness wasn’t the cause this time.