January 15, 2019

FDA Needs Better Way To Tell Consumers About Food Recalls, Says GAO

When a food safety issue requires a recall, delivering fast, accurate information to consumers can limit the spread of illness and in some cases, save lives. But quickly disseminating recall information to consumers is not a strong suit of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of the federal agencies charged with protecting our nation’s food supply, according to Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“FDA faces a number of communication challenges when advising the public about food recalls or outbreaks of foodborne illness, ranging from balancing technical accuracy with timeliness of communications to coordinating messages with other agencies to meeting the needs of diverse public audiences. The agency has taken steps to begin meeting these challenges but has yet to fully address recommendations from GAO and others to fashion a comprehensive food recall communication policy and related implementation plans,” the GAO states in  a recent report.

The GAO report sites three recommendations the FDA has not yet put into action:  its Advisory Committee on Risk Communication’s recommendation to create a policy for emerging events that addresses key communication challenges;  the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council recommendation to address coordination challenges surrounding communication and the GAO’s recommendation that the FDA work jointly with the the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  on new approaches to alerting consumers about recalls.

Balancing speed and accuracy is a key part of  alerting the public to a food safety hazard. Recalls ordered by mistake can cost producers a lot of money. If taking extra steps to make sure a recall is warranted, is causing delays in consumer alerts,  there is a way to remove , or at least mitigate, this area of concern, the report states. For example, food producers could be compensated through a dedicated federal government program or through federally government-subsidized insurance.

The GAO concludes its report by recommending that the FDA issue regulations or industry guidance to clarify its food recall process and implement the outlined above.

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