Getting Bad Food Off The Shelves

People get sick and sometimes die when the federal government drags its feet on recalling bad food.  That's the message from a federal audit of food recalls handled by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Office of Inspector General looked at a sample of 30 voluntary food recalls reported to the FDA between October 1, 2012 and May 4, 2015.  The Inspector General concluded that the FDA did not have an efficient and effective food recall initiation process that helps ensure the safety of the nation's food supply.

Specifically, the Inspector General found that the FDA did not have policies and procedures to ensure that companies or responsible parties initiate food recalls promptly.  He called the issue "a significant matter" that "requires FDA's immediate attention".

The FDA has the power to require a company to recall certain articles of food.  But it has only used this authority twice.  Typically, the FDA relies on companies to voluntarily recall harmful articles of food. The problem identified by the audit is that delays occur in issuing those voluntary recalls when the FDA doesn't set deadlines or push hard enough.

The audit showed that consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after the FDA knew of potentially hazardous food.  For example:

**In a recall involving nut butter, at least 14 people became ill with a strain of salmonella indistinguishable from or linked to the strain found at the firm's manufacturing facility. 165 days passed from the date FDA identified the potentially adulterated product and the date the firm initiated a voluntary food recall.

**In a series of recalls involving various cheese products, at least nine people became ill from listeria monocytogenes, including one infant who died. According to FDA records, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also linked two fetal losses to these illnesses.  81 days passed from the date FDA became aware of the adulterated product and the date the firm had voluntarily recalled all affected products.

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