Senator Schumer Calls for Reform of FDA Food Recall Process

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) recently criticized the FDA for not being fast enough in recalling potentially dangerous food. Schumer called for a top-to-bottom review of the agency’s process.

“Delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster,” Schumer said in a July 31 press release, Politico reports. “That’s why the FDA must come to the table with a healthy, new plan, detailing how they will revamp and execute a reformed food recall process. One that gets potentially contaminated food off the shelves before Americans risk getting sick, not after.”

Schumer’s call for reform comes after a major expansion of a General Mills flour recall over E. coli contamination. In late July, the company expanded its flour recall by 15 million pounds, bringing the total to 45 million pounds. The recall stems from a 21-state E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 46 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), illnesses date back to December 2015. Flour was first recalled in late May 2016.

Schumer, a senior Democrat in the Senate, cited a June report from Inspector General of Health and Human Services that raised serious questions about how the FDA handles recalls. “Our ongoing audit of FDA’s food recall program found that FDA did not have an efficient and effective food recall initiation process that helps ensure the safety of the Nation’s food supply.” The IG issued an alert sharing preliminary findings of a review of 30 voluntary food recalls reported to the FDA between October 2012 and May 2015. The IG wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf calling for improvements.

Since May 31, 57 products have been recalled due to listeria, salmonella, and other bacteria.

Schumer said, “Delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster,” Politico reports. “That’s why the FDA must come to the table with a healthy, new plan, detailing how they will revamp and execute a reformed food recall process. One that gets potentially contaminated food off the shelves before Americans risk getting sick, not after.”

Though the FDA has the authority to mandate food recalls since 2011, most food recalls are still voluntary, undertaken by the food producer in coordination with the FDA. The HHS investigators found that the FDA could be slow to force a recall even after determining that a food posed a health hazard, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has criticized the FDA’s slow handling of food recalls. David Plunkett, the center’s senior food safety attorney, said the FDA should be using the authority granted under the 2011 food safety law to order food recalls, instead of waiting for manufacturers to issue voluntary recalls. Plunkett said the FDA has not effectively used its new recall power to protect the public from unsafe food, according to the Bangor Daily News.