Federal investigators have concluded that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not acting quickly enough to remove contaminated food from store shelves.
Looking at 30 of 1,557 food recalls from 2012 to 2015, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that the FDA did not always evaluate food-borne hazards in a timely manner. Despite given the necessary authority, the FDA failed to ensure all companies initiated recalls promptly, which left consumers at risk.
With 48 million people getting sick from foodborne diseases, 128,000 people being hospitalized, and 3,000 people dying every year, food companies should be not be taking any actions that could be putting more people at risk.
On average, it took food companies 57 days to recall items after the FDA was apprised of the potential hazards. One recall even took 303 days to begin.
“Each and every day is important, because every day the product remains on the shelf, consumers are potentially at risk for serious illness or death,” said George Nedder, an assistant regional inspector general at Health and Human Services and lead author of the new report.
While food recalls are announced frequently, the majority are voluntary. A recall arises from either a company reporting contamination to the FDA or the agency approaching a manufacturer after learning of a hazard.
The report found multiple shortcomings, including deficiencies in the FDA’s monitoring of recalls and in collecting and tracking recall data. Additionally, it was found that the FDA did not always evaluate health hazards quickly enough.
Some of the delayed recalls by the agency included 165 days to begin a recall of nut butters containing salmonella, 151 days to recall hazelnuts suspected of salmonella, 82 days to start a recall of frozen spinach with high levels of cadmium, and 27 days to begin a recall of cooked duck eggs containing bacteria that can cause botulism.
Americans eat an incredible amount of processed food, including an average 66.5 pounds of beef per person each year. That leaves many consumers vulnerable if a product is contaminated by bacteria or foreign objects.
Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, claimed the agency took the inspector general’s earlier warning very seriously and had already begun to address these recall enforcement issues.
While Gottlieb said that most food recalls occur within four days of a hazard or contamination being reported, this new research says otherwise.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, senior adviser at Public Citizen, said, “The kinds of things that the inspector general has found are things that might be excusable in the first couple of years, but not seven years into it.”