More than 15,000 pounds were yanked from shelves due to small pieces of clear plastic that inadvertently became mixed into the meat. The contaminated chicken nuggets are manufactured by Perdue, a Georgia-based company hired by Applegate to help "co-pack" their products.
Consumers are urged to check for products with an expiration date of 2/05/2015 and the establishment number "P2617." More than 30,000 packages of the product were sold across the United States, including at Whole Foods, Safeway, Giant and other local and regional grocers.
"The problem was discovered after the firm received consumer complaints that small pieces of plastic were found in the products. FSIS and the company have received no reports of injury or illness from consumption of the product. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness from consumption of these products should contact a healthcare provider," the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported.
Applegate willingly pulled contaminated products from shelves before ordered to do so by the USDA
Tyson Foods, one of Perdue's competitors, was forced to recall more than 75,000 pounds of chicken nuggets last April, after small pieces of plastic were found mixed into their meat.
On August 12, the USDA ruled in favor of changing the status of the product withdrawal to a Class II recall, which presents a low health risk but requires the origin of the recall problem to be identified, which in this case is Perdue.
While Applegate is an independently owned and operated natural and organic meat company, they frequently work closely with processors and co-packers. According to a press released published on their website, the packaging problem occurred when a piece of the plastic used to store the raw chicken prior to entering the grinder became "dislodged and comingled with the raw chicken."
The company maintains that the incident was an isolated problem and assures that proper steps will be taken to prevent a repeat. "We have carefully evaluated every step in the processing and packaging of this product," said Applegate.
"As a result, we have identified and implemented the following corrective action that will provide added assurance against a similar incident occurring in the future."
Over the span of 25 years, Applegate Farms has grown into one of the largest natural and organic food brands in the U.S. The company's CEO and founder, Stephen McDonnell, grew up on a Midwestern diet of meat and potatoes, but after being exposed to "hippie food" in college, including yogurt, grains, fruits and granola, he yearned for a life of healthy living.
Despite his newfound love for fruits and veggies, McDonnell still craved meat. "While shopping one day, I saw nitrite-free bacon and had an epiphany: I could feel good about eating meat if it didn't contain ingredients I knew were bad for me. Meat and I were reunited," he said.
In the 1990s, the company began selling antibiotic-free meat, with Whole Foods being one of their first customers. With a rising consumer demand for cleaner food and an overall growing awareness of chemical- and antibiotic-free foods, Applegate's revenue has reached $200 million, and employs about 80 people.
In the beginning, the natural grocer was selling a mere 2,000-3,000 pounds of meat a week but has now peaked at about 70,000 pounds per week.
"We're not farmers or processors or cookers or retailers," said McDonnell to Inc.com's Donna Fenn. "What we do is create the recipes and manage the very complex variables to ensure that everything is done on time and with the highest quality."