Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling on the federal government to improve the FDA’s ability to recall contaminated foods. He uses the recall of millions of pounds of General Mills flour for potential E. coli contamination as an example.
The E. coli O121 and O26 outbreak linked to that flour began in December 2015, but the flour itself was not recalled until May 2016. Meanwhile, more American consumers got sick.
The Senator called for major changes, to make sure the FDA is doing everything it can to prevent future foodborne illness. The Senator is responding to a recently released report by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which suggested that the FDA is taking far too long to initiate food recalls, putting consumers at risk.
Schumer said, “delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster. That’s why the FDA must come to the table with a healthy, new plan, detailing how they will revamp an execute a reformed food recall process. One that gets potentially contaminated food off the shelves before Americans risk getting sick, not after. We expect our everyday food purchases from the local supermarket to be safe to eat, but following a recent Inspector General’s report, it appears many Americans are getting a sour deal and sour stomachs. The food recall process too slow and unduly exposes countless Americans to food that can make them sick – or even kill them. In some cases, the FDA waits months before issuing recalls on potentially contaminated food products. That’s why I’m urging the FDA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of their contaminated food recall process with an eye towards speeding things up.”
Since May 31, 2016, there have been 57 products recalled for potential Listeria and Salmonella contamination, including recalls for cheese, frozen vegetables, cereal, sunflower seeds, rice, and ice cream. While the Food Safety Modernization Act gives the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls, food companies must first be given the opportunity to recall their products voluntarily. Since FSMA passed in 2011, the FDA has only issued two mandatory recalls.
The Inspector General’s report looked at extreme instances of food recalls over the last few years. That report suggested that the FDA “does not have an efficient and effective food recall initiation process that helps ensure the safety of the Nation’s food supply.” Inspectors audited 30 voluntary recalls between October 2012 and May 2015 and found that the FDA often worked to encourage companies to issue voluntary recalls months before issuing a mandatory recall, despite identifying potentially dangerous contamination in the product.
Schumer uses as an example the nSpired nut butter recall and Salmonella outbreak in 2014. The FDA inspected that company’s facility in February 2014 and found Salmonella in nSpired’s nut butter on March 7, 2014. On March 24, 2014, FDA learned that two people were sickened after consuming that company’s nut butter. The company issued a voluntary recall of their products five months later, in August. By that time, at least 14 people in 11 states were sick with the outbreak strain of Salmonella.
The Inspector General’s report concluded that the FDA does not have adequate policies and procedures in place to protect consumers from buying contaminated products. The FDA should update policies and procedures by establishing set timeframes for recalls. Schumer urged the FDA to take action and conduct a full review of its recall process to help keep consumers safe from contaminated food.