Investigators for the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been slow to force food recalls. According to BDN Maine, the FDA’s delayed response places consumers “at risk of injury or death”.
The FDA gained the ability to mandate recalls of contaminated food in 2011, under the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA. The agency has only forced a recall twice, both instances in 2013. The auditors found that the FDA was slow to act even when foods were determined to pose health hazards.
The investigators analyzed 30 voluntary recalls issued between October 2012 and May 2015. For the two mandated recalls, the auditors issued a “rare alert”, stating “consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA knew of potentially hazardous food.”
The FDA was also criticized for the way it handled two voluntary recalls. Investigators cite a 2014 instance, where salmonella was found in nut butter; reportedly, the recall date was 165 days past when the problem surfaced. The tainted nut butter was linked to 14 illnesses in 11 states. The other recall was issued after a listeria outbreak was linked to cheese products later that year. According to the alert, it took 81 days to complete a series of recalls. The products were linked to at least nine illnesses.
BDN Maine reports that the audit was led by George Nedder, who commented “I think the time that these recalls took were problematic, absolutely.”
The FDA responded to the rare alert with a news release. The agency said that delays, while only occurring in a minority of cases, are “unacceptable”. The FDA stated it was taking “concrete steps” to address the issue. “These steps include the establishment of a rapid-response team made up of agency leaders and the introduction of new technologies to make the process even swifter,” the agency stated.