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Watchdog Slams FDA’s Tardy Recalls of Dangerous Foods

Food and Drug Administration officials are slow in reacting to reports of suspect products, says inspector general

Protecting the nation’s food supply is among the chief duties of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but a federal watchdog reports the agency is too often moving sluggishly to issue needed recalls.

The FDA is supposed to act quickly to remove foods that go to market contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, are exposed to dangerous chemicals during production, or become, in other ways, unhealthy for human consumption.

But in too many instances, days go by before FDA officials take action to protect the food supply, according to the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Health and Human Services. The IG reviewed 30 of the more than 1,500 food cases that received FDA attention between 2012 and 2015.

“Recalls were not always initiated promptly because FDA does not have adequate procedures to ensure that firms take prompt and effective action in initiating voluntary food recalls,” the IG said.

There weren’t excessive delays when a food producer agreed with the FDA that a potential or actual problem existed — but whenever the producer disagreed, delays could last for months before federal officials ordered recalls.

In one example of the latter cited by the IG, 81 days elapsed between the time a cheese producer received an FDA warning and when the recall began.

“Recalls were not always initiated promptly because FDA does not have adequate procedures …”

“During that time, the firm’s owner agreed with [the] FDA to suspend manufacturing and temporarily halt its distribution of cheese. However, the owner, despite knowing that the product had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, then had multiple trays of cheese, which had been held in processing, packaged and distributed,” the IG reported.

Officials at the FDA claimed the 30 cases reviewed by the IG were “outliers” and that only four days usually elapsed before recalls were initiated by the government.

But the IG disputed the FDA’s four-day claim, saying, “We did not find evidence that FDA had a reliable system for capturing the recall initiation date or the date FDA became aware of potentially hazardous food products.”

Senior editor Mark Tapscott can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter here.​

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