Audit Faults FDA Recalls Of Imported Foods

An audit of 17 recalls revealed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not always follow FDA rules to remove potentially <"">contaminated imported foods from the marketplace, said Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote The New York Times.

The finding means that efforts to take dangerous, tainted foods out of the marketplace are not always handled appropriately and completely, noted The Times. Products included Salmonella contaminated Honduran cantaloupes, listeria contaminated frozen mussel meat from New Zealand, and Korean frozen fish contaminated with the botulism bacterium, said The Times.

While the pathogens are of significant concern, the timing between knowledge of contamination and recall were also criticized. For instance, said The Times, one case had a lag of over three months; another, one month. In most cases—13 of 17—firms supplying the contaminated products did not provide consumers with the “accurate or complete information” that would enable appropriate recalls, according to the audit, noted the Times.

In response, FDA acting deputy commissioner for policy, planning and budget, David Dorsey, said that the food safety law signed by President Obama at the beginning of the year, would correct some of the issues cited, wrote the Times.

The long-delayed $1.4 billion food safety system overhaul provides the FDA with some significant authority increases, such as increased power over food recalls, facility inspections, and farming oversight and will mandate accountability from food producers. The bill was prompted by a number of significant food borne illness outbreaks in the past several years that involved commonly consumed staples such as peanuts, tomatoes, and eggs.

According to a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement, tainted food has led to 3,000 reported deaths annually and 180,000 hospitalizations. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs at the Pew Health Group, noted, at the time, that the cost linked to food borne pathogenic outbreaks costs in the tens of billions of dollars, significantly more that the law will cost, explained the Associated Press, previously.

Dorsey also said, wrote The Times, that the agency is looking into other methods, such as hiring contractors to handle some of the work.

From July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, the FDA oversaw 40 recalls involving significantly tainted imported foods designated imminent threats, said The Times. Of 17, 7 were for Salmonella contamination, 5 for contamination with the Listeria pathogen, 4 over Clostridium botulinum contamination, and one over high lead levels, said The Times. Clostidium botulinum is the bacterium that causes botulism and lead, a heavy metal, is linked to a broad array of dangerous adverse reactions.

The audit criticized the government’s handling of these recalls, pointing to a lack of inspections; food remaining, to some degree, in the food chain; failure to conduct inspections; failure to secure full information on contaminated foods; not conducting audits to ensure recalls were conducted appropriately; late or incomplete recalls; not witnessing disposal of the contaminated foods; or not receiving documents proving contaminated products were disposed of, said The Times.

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