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Senator Schumer Criticizes Food Recall Process, Calls for Reform

Aug 5, 2016

Senator Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) is calling for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reform its process for recalling dangerous foods, criticizing the agency for its delayed response. The move comes shortly after General Mills expanded its recall of flour due to potential contamination with E. coli.

That recall, which was initiated in May, affected 21 states and left 46 people ill. According to, the company expanded the recall by 15 million pounds of flour, now affecting 45 million pounds. The first illnesses related to the flour recall were documented in December 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster," Schumer stated in a press release. "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 cited a Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG) Report issued in June, which brought attention to how the FDA manages recalls. The IG is conducting an ongoing review, and shared preliminary findings on 30 voluntary recalls reported to the agency between October 2012 and May 2015. The report stated, "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. Specifically, FDA did not have policies and procedures to ensure that firms or responsible parties initiated voluntary food recalls promptly. 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 IG recommended that the FDA update its policies, and also sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf calling for changes.

In the letter, the IG noted that the FDA failed to give a timeline for a firm to initiate a recall after the agency learned of an adulterated product. In two instances, 165 days and 81 days passed between when the FDA learned of the problem and when the recall was initiated. The letter states that these delays may have occurred because the FDA lacks policies and procedures instructing recall staff to set deadlines for FDA to request voluntary recalls and deadlines for firms to initiate voluntary food recalls. The letter referred to a recall of nut butter tainted with Salmonella linked to a firm's manufacturing facility. The firm did not launch a recall until 165 days after the FDA first learned of the issue. In another series of recalls involving cheese tainted with Listeria monocytogenes, at least nine people became ill, including one infant who died. The CDC also linked two miscarriages to these illnesses, FDA records indicate. The firm voluntarily recalled all products 81 days after the FDA became aware of the problem.

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