FDA Audit Reveals Shoddy Handling of Imported Food Recalls
June 21, 2011 - Comments Off
According to a recent audit of 17 food recalls, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violates its own policies when attempting to tackle contaminated – or ‘adulterated’ – imported food. The New York Times reports that the recall audit included listeria-infected mussels from New Zealand, salmonella-tainted cantaloupes from Honduras and fish from Korea containing a botulism causing bacterium. In two cases, the agency delayed between one and three months in recalling products known to be contaminated. Noncompliant suppliers in 13 of the 17 cases provided inaccurate or incomplete information to customers, hindering recalls of contaminated food.
Today, more than 60% of produce and 80% of seafood consumed in the US is imported from neighboring countries, and in the last ten years, the market for imported consumer-ready products increased by more than $50 billion. Federal agencies have tried to better communicate imported food safety issues – for example, a 2008 USDA report analyzing FDA import violations indicated that seafood and produce represent more than half of total violations and more than 16,000 of violations between 1998 and 2004 were pathogenic and chemical contaminations – once again heavily impacting fruit, vegetables and seafood. By approving the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Congress enacted the most sweeping reforms since 1938 when the FDA was granted expanded drug and cosmetics oversight. Signed in January by President Obama, FSMA promises to resolve many of the woes currently plaguing the U.S. food supply chain. Prominent themes of the new law are prevention, inspections, compliance and import monitoring. Along with authorizing the FDA to order companies to remove products from the food supply, FMSA also contains anti-retaliation whistleblower protections for employees in virtually all areas of the food industry including manufacturing, processing and packing, distribution and holding.
“As the FDA strengthens its regulatory authority, whistleblowers will play a key role in standing up for the health and safety of consumers,” said David Marshall, a partner at the employment law firm Katz, Marshall and Banks. “Provisions of the new food safety law should encourage food workers to report their concerns without fear of reprisal. Meatpackers, buyers, quality assurance staff, and even loaders are on the frontlines every day, not just for their families’ wellbeing, but also for the health and wellbeing of the nation as a whole.”