Why we aren’t losing sleep over rubber in Tyson’s chicken nuggets

Relax. This happens all the time.

On Wednesday morning, we woke up to the term  “Tyson Foods” trending on Twitter. By now, you’ve probably heard: The company is voluntarily recalling 36,420 pounds of chicken nuggets that may contain stray bits of rubber. Food news doesn’t go wildly viral too often, but this story was the rare exception. By Wednesday afternoon, the possibility of rubber-laden nuggets had generated thousands of tweets, with write-ups by outlets like CNN, NBC, and The Washington Post.

Gross, right? Sure. But is it a big deal? Not really.

According to data available from the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), meat products were recalled for containing “extraneous material” or “foreign matter” at a rate equivalent to more than once a month in 2018. (While most recalls are announced by the Food and Drug Administration, meat is regulated by USDA, meaning recalls and inspections are handled by its Food Safety and Inspection Service.)

Tyson’s recall isn’t even the first one to be attributed to possible rubber contamination this month. January has already seen two other recalls prompted by the presence of rubber in meat—48,371 pounds of ground pork products from a plant in Wisconsin, as well as 1,719 pounds of ground pork sausage from a plant in Ohio. Foreign material mishaps like these are common, though the contaminants themselves vary. Less than two weeks ago, for instance, Perdue announced a recall nearly twice the size of Tyson’s after three consumers complained of having found wood in its ready-to-eat chicken nuggets.

And Tyson’s recall isn’t even particularly large compared to other recent mishaps. In September, for instance, Alabama-based Wayne Farms recalled more than 400,000 pounds of “fully cooked chicken products”—an amount roughly 10 times the size of what Tyson announced it was recalling on Wednesday—because the products may have contained metal pieces.

Of the 15 “extraneous material” and “foreign matter” recalls recorded in FSIS’s 2018 archives, only two were due to products having potentially contained rubber bits. (FSIS data stop after September 2018 and may be incomplete due to ongoing recalls or a delay in data entry.) Nine resulted from plastic contamination, three involved metal pieces, and one, alarmingly, implicated bone.

So why did Tyson’s recall trend on Wednesday morning? Maybe because it’s a brand name. Or maybe it was just a slow news day. Either way, we probably won’t be losing sleep over any rubber chicken.

Here’s your visual guide to a host of recent recalls.

Hillary Bonhomme

Within two weeks of one another, Tyson and Perdue both announced massive recalls of chicken nuggets

Hillary Bonhomme

At least three different recalls were initiated for meat products containing bits of metal in 2018

Hillary Bonhomme

Meat products are often recalled because of potential plastic contaminants. In March of 2018, more than 100,000 pounds of pork sausage were recalled for this reason

H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.