Does the FDA Take Way Too Long to Recall Tainted Food?

© Dan Dalton / Getty Images / Caiaimage

By Gillie Houston Posted June 09, 2016

Government investigators say yes.

The FDA drags its feet on food recalls, a new report says. U.S. News and World Report has the story.

After reviewing 30 recalls made between 2012 and 2015, government investigators at the Department of Health and Human Services announced that federal health officials often allow food-safety investigations to drag on for months, despite the high-level pathogen identifying technology at their disposal. Lead investigator George Nedder questioned the morality of letting such dangerous oversights through the cracks. "Months and weeks when peoples' lives are on the line?" Nedder asks. "It needs to be done faster."

According to the report, the administration failed to make a timely recall of almond and peanut butter products, waiting three months after DNA testing confirmed a salmonella contamination before yanking them off the shelves. Because of this misstep, countless people were potentially exposed to the contaminant against their knowledge by the organization that oversees nearly 80 percent of America's food supply.

In response to this investigation, Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff says the FDA has set up a group to review stagnant recall cases weekly, in an effort to speed up the process and to "be able to take action much more quickly." However, Ostroff also notes that the case in question—a peanut and almond product recall by nSpired Natural Foods Inc. in 2014—involved extenuating circumstances. The government had just rolled out a new form of precise DNA mapping, and Ostroff says the investigation didn't go "as quickly as we would like it to go" because they needed "more experience with this technology."

Because of this delay, a recall didn't occur until 165 days after DNA mapping had found salmonella. In that time, 14 people in 11 states got sick. In a 2014 case involving of cheese products by Oasis Brands Inc., the FDA issued a recall 81 days after being notified that listeria had been found in the company's food. Nine people were sickened and one infant died.

While Ostroff claims that some investigations are simply smaller and slower than others, Nedder isn't having it. "If you were playing Russian roulette with three bullets in the chamber, would you feel safe if you took one or two of them out?" Nedder asks. "Dangerous product remained in the food supply," he adds—and the FDA didn't act quickly enough to remove it.

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