We don't want to alarm anyone, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General recently released some concerning information about the Food and Drug Administration. Its audit revealed that the FDA "does not have an efficient and effective food recall initiation process." In other words, it's jumping on food recalls way too slowly.
In a response on its blog, the FDA pointed some of the blame at food companies. Officials said the agency uses the powers granted by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to force mandatory recalls of contaminated food when necessary. But the problem is not that the FDA failed to notify the companies within guidelines. It's that the companies delayed taking action.
The FDA did agree that allowing months to elapse before removing bad food from the public is unacceptable. It assures the public that it will follow the OIG's recommendations to revise its procedures for voluntary recall.
As far as I'm concerned, as a mom and a person who eats food, the OIG audit shows that the FDA is more like a watchdog who sees an intruder break in, barks once and then happily goes back to sleep. A consumer protection administration is only as strong as its teeth, and the FDA clearly isn't using theirs. In most cases, companies quickly and voluntarily issue a recall after the FDA identifies a contaminated product. That's a relief. But what about the ones that don't? The delayed response can literally mean the difference between life and death for American consumers.
It is not enough for the FDA to consider its job done after politely requesting action rather than forcing it. The agency defensively maintains that it still must take the time to test samples to determine how much of a product should be recalled. In other words, the scientific process can't be rushed, or the agency risks leaving contaminated product on shelves.
Consumers aren't trying to make the FDA jump the gun on recalls. We just don't want to eat bad cheese for three months. Now that the FDA is aware of the problem, however, it has pledged to expedite its plans to set rules and time frames for recalls. The agency should definitely use the power of the FSMA to issue stronger mandates for recall. We certainly hope it does.
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