Federal food safety officials have announced a new initiative that is designed to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of food recalls next year, as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the risk of food poisoning illnesses and deaths that occur nationwide.
The FDA issued a press release on December 26, outlining steps the agency intends to take to better address food recalls in 2018 and beyond, focusing on ways to better inform consumers across the nation of potential contamination risks.
As part of the entire recall process overview, Investigator George Nedder, of the FDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), and his team reviewed 30 voluntary recalls out of the 1,500 food recalls announced between October 2012 and May 2015, to find ways to improve the data collection and recall announcement process.
Of the 30 voluntary recalls, 23 of them were considered to be Class I, which are the most serious because they could result in serious injury or death. Nedder’s team was able to find several multi-state food poisoning outbreaks where identifying the source of the outbreak took months.
For example, a 2014 nut butter recall took 165 days to identify. A cheese recall linked to listeria contamination took 81 days and ultimately resulted in nine illnesses and the death of a fetus in a pregnant woman.
Nedder’s study identified several flaws in the recall process. He found that the FDA is not always able to identify the source of the contamination, and when a specific product is identified, the manufacturers and distributors can be difficult to identify due to lack of information.
In Tuesday’s statement, FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, M.D., announced the agency will be issuing a guidance on recall communications in the first half of 2018. The FDA will examine in what situations it can help consumers get information about the stores and food service locations that may have sold or distributed a potentially unsafe, recalled food and what company may have supplied the product.
“One of our most important jobs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is ensuring the safety of the U.S. food supply,” Gottlieb said in the press release. “When we learn about a food in the marketplace that may be unsafe, we must act quickly to keep people from getting sick or being harmed. If foodborne illness has already occurred, we also must act quickly to keep more people from becoming ill.”
According to the FDA’s information, manufacturers and the agency are best able to identify the source of an outbreak, allowing the manufacturer to issue a voluntary recall within three to four days. However, Gottlieb said the agency needs to remain steady in issuing recalls to protect the public and must always retain the authority to mandate recalls from manufacturers who decline to do so.
As part of recent efforts, the FDA established the Strategic Coordinated Oversight of Recall Execution (SCORE) team, which is comprised of senior leaders charged with reviewing complex and unusual food safety situations. They are responsible for determining the proper action to address the problem. In addition to overseeing complex recalls, the team also makes procedural recommendations that could better expedite the recall process.