The Food and Drug Administration is too slow to order companies to recall tainted foods, leaving people at risk of illness and death, a government watchdog said in a review of the agency's food safety program, according to Reuters.
The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General reviewed 30 recalls that occurred between 2012 and 2015, including two in which companies did not recall all affected items until 165 days and 81 days after the FDA became aware of tainted foods. The watchdog issued its report on Wednesday.
"FDA does not have adequate policies and procedures to ensure that firms take prompt and effective action in initiating voluntary food recalls," the report said. "As a result, consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA was aware of a potentially hazardous food in the supply chain."
The watchdog urged the FDA to address the problem immediately.
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Editor's Insight: The Food Safety Modernization Act has been finalized, but its initial enforcement is several months away, meaning there won’t be any immediate improvement to the unacceptable state of food safety.
FDA officials responding to the agency’s failure to act on recalls point out that recalls need to be launched based on scientific evidence. They also point out that recalls have to be done on an individual basis rather than arbitrary timelines. These are valid points.
Nevertheless, the current system does not do an adequate job of protecting public health. In some cases, it is taking companies five months to launch a recall.
The government has to rely heavily on the food industry’s cooperation to identify foodborne illnesses and initiate recalls.
The Food Safety Modernization Act places new responsibilities on food companies, emphasizes prevention over reaction to potential risks, and gives the FDA stronger enforcement powers. An important question that has not been answered is how the FDA will enforce the new law.