Watchdog agency: FDA food recall process too slow

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June 9, 2016 – Liz Szabo, USA TODAY – CORAL BEACH foodsafetynews – The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require food manufacturers to quickly recall according to a report released Thursday by a watchdog agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services.

In one case, the manufacturer of a nut butter took 165 days to recall a product contaminated with salmonella, a bacteria that can be deadly, according to the report from the Office of the Inspector General, which looked at 30 recalls between 2012 and 2015. Fourteen people in 11 states became ill in the outbreak. “Consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA knew of potentially hazardous food,” according to the “early alert,” which is part of an ongoing audit.

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In another series of recalls, at least nine people became ill from listeria bacteria in cheese, including a baby who died. Two women also miscarried. Yet “81 days passed from the date FDA became aware of the adulterated product and the date the firm had voluntarily recalled all affected products,” according to the report.

The FDA doesn’t have an “efficient and effective” process to set a deadline for food manufacturers to voluntarily recall tainted food, a problem that requires the FDA’s “immediate attention,” according to the report. The FDA is required to give companies a chance to recall products voluntarily, before announcing a mandatory recall.

The new report is not the first to find problems with food recalls. A 2011 audit also found the recall program was “inadequate.”

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About one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get food poisoning each year, including 128,000 who are are hospitalized and 3,000 who die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement, the FDA called the delays “unacceptable,” but noted that recalls are generally issued within an average of about a week.

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The concept of timeframes for “individual situations” is one of the problems identified by the Inspector General’s early alert. The report suggests that FDA should be more aggressive in all recall situations, not just certain individual situations.

“… we found that FDA’s policies and procedures did not instruct its recall staff to prescribe to the firms a time and a manner in which to initiate the voluntary recall. We also found that FDA did not have policies and procedures to ensure that firms initiated voluntary food recalls promptly,” according to the OIG alert.

“For all 30 voluntary recalls in our sample, after FDA first became aware that an adulterated or misbranded product could be in the food supply chain, it did not prescribe a timeline for each firm to initiate a recall.”

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The FDA said it is already taking “concrete steps” to speed up the recall process by creating a “rapid-response team” and using new technology.

In their blog post, the FDA’s administrators said the recall process is complex and must be tailored to each situation, rather than having set procedures and timelines.

“The alert focuses in particular on two recalls in which the companies did not initiate recalls of all affected products for months despite the fact that FDA notified them as soon as the agency had evidence of a contamination,” according to the FDA administrators’ blog post.

“This finding is unacceptable — no question about that. It bears noting, however, that in those three years, the FDA worked with companies to successfully bring about thousands of recalls to keep unsafe food out of the market and homes of consumers with an average recall initiation time of less than a week.

 
Credit Liz Szabo, USA TODAY – BY CORAL BEACH foodsafetynews

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