Abstract Policy makers within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) complement the role of meat and poultry plant managers in food recalls. The increasing frequency and scale of recalls raise questions whether sufficient attention is placed on these events. Three measures of recall effectiveness are introduced to evaluate this public-private crisis management process. Managerial and technical variables are compared to these measures of effectiveness. Results from regression models suggest that recalls carried out by the smallest sized plants, those that took place after Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point implementation, and recalls involving processed products are more effective. Little evidence of differences was found in the effectiveness of the crisis management process between meat plants compared with poultry plants or for plants that are part of a larger firm. Despite USDA’s stated focus on recalls with more severe public health consequences, there is no evidence that Class I or microbiological recalls are more effectively managed.