A Frontline report that used the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak to show how the USDA’s lack of enforcement puts consumers at risk for severe illness, has prompted Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) to introduce the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act which would provide the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry.
In 2013, Foster Farms was linked to a 29-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened 634 people with an especially virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. Among those who became ill , was 18-month-old Noah Craten whose Salmonella infection created abscesses in his brain. To save his life, surgeons had to cut open his skull and remove them.
Noah’s story was featured in the Frontline report which spotlighted the USDA’s lack of enforcement ability and begged the question who is accountable when food makes people sick.
“Companies that make and sell contaminated food should be,” said Fred Pritzker, a food safety attorney with PritzkerOlsen, who is representing the Craten family. But that’s not always the case.
“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”
In addition to giving USDA mandatory recall authority, the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act would: encourage retailers to use of frequent shopper cards that monitor purchases so consumers can be notified more easily when products are recalled; create a 1-page Recall Summary Notice to be displayed at all points of sale.
The proposed bill would give the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service authority to require companies to recall contaminated food, to halt all activities related to the recalled food and to notify affected business, state public health agencies and consumers. Penalties could be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall.