The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services has recently conducted a study on food products the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled. The OIG has found that the FDA is unsatisfactorily-slow in initiating pulling products from the shelves, and may lead to a risk of disease and even death in the general population.
In one cited incident, the FDA failed to remove products with salmonella-tainted peanut butter for 165 days, even after 14 people reported symptoms of the illness. The FDA also took 81 days to recall a regional cheese product from Virginia, which left eight people ill and one person dead.
In 2011, the FDA was given the power to force recalls of food if contamination was found. Still, the organization only relies on companies voluntarily recalling contaminated products, which leaves significant room for food-borne illness and in some instances, death. Another factor for the long wait is dragged out and long investigations, that take months before the public is even aware of the risks lurking in their food.
The OIG report stated: “FDA did not have policies and procedures to ensure that firms or responsible parties initiated voluntary food recalls promptly.”
The slow process that the Department of Health takes issue with is clearly presented in the Virginia cheese case. The cheeses, which were sold under Oasis Brands, recalled several products in 2014.
However, the state agricultural department in Virginia had warned the FDA that the cheese was contaminated with listeria a full three months before any action was taken. The FDA investigated the matter, which took 81 days. They tested the cheeses twice for listeria during this time and found it contaminated in both instances. However, it still took them almost 90 days to issue a statement for a recall of the product.
However, the FDA says that it is doing the best that it can and that the findings of this new report are “unacceptable.”
In a recent post, the organization wrote:
“[I]n those three years, the FDA worked with companies to successfully bring about thousands of recalls to keep unsafe food out of the market and homes of consumers with an average recall initiation time of less than a week.”