Food Safety News is now reporting that the 36-million-pound salmonella-tainted Cargill ground turkey recall currently in effect is effectively the biggest major food recall ever. They note that the USDA has called it the third-biggest ever, but that the two ahead of it are Class II recalls, rather than Class I recalls like this one.
Recalls are classified by urgency and health risk of the product being recalled. Class I recalls are for product defects that pose an imminent risk of health complications, while Class II recalls are issued when defects only have the potential to cause harm. FSN also gives fascinating descriptions of the five next-biggest recalls:
2. A 35-million-pound hot dog recall by Sara Lee in 2000
3. A 27.4-million-pound frozen turkey and chicken recall by Pilgrim's in 2002
4. A 25-million-pound frozen beef recall by Hudson Foods in 1997
5. A 21.7-million-pound frozen ground beef patty recall by Topps Meats in 2007
6. A 19-million-pound recall of "beef trim and fresh and frozen ground beef" by ConAgra in 2002
Ohio State University has a nice primer on the different kinds of recalls if you're fuzzy on the concept and reasoning behind them more generally.
And here's a video on the state of the recall.