FDA Food Recall Procedures Called Into Question

The General Accounting Office (GAO) (www.gao.gov) is calling into question the procedures in place at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding its ordered food recalls. In the event of a major food recall, the GAO feels that the current procedures may not be effective or efficient for consumers or food companies

The GAO is responsible for oversight of government agencies. Among other responsibilities, the GAO is charged with ensuring agencies are doing what they are supposed to be doing, that agencies are spending their funds as intended, and alerting agencies and the public of potential crises before they happen.

In its report issued July 26, 2012, the GAO noted that the FDA has not fashioned “a comprehensive food recall communication policy and related implementation plans.” The report takes the FDA to task for not implementing recommendations from its own advisory panel, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council and the Department of Agriculture on how to address communication issues and challenges in the event of a recall.

The increase in outbreaks of food-borne illness and tainted food products has raised public and government awareness about protecting the safety of the United States food supply. The study was undertaken by the GAO, under direction from Congress, in order to determine how well the FDA implements its authority over food recalls as compared to other agencies which have product recall authority; how well the FDA has addressed its challenges in alerting the public about outbreaks of food-borne illness or of food recalls; and how the FDA is prepared to handle compensation to food companies in the event of an erroneous food recall. This last item is important since a food recall has enormous financial impact on the food industry as a whole.

Recommendations to the FDA

FDAThe report’s recommendations include urging the FDA to provide industry guidance regarding its ordered food-recall process or to issue clear regulations regarding the process and suggesting the FDA address its challenges in notifying the public about food recalls and illness outbreaks by implementing the recommendations from other agencies.

The FDA has issued a statement in which it neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations of the GAO but stated that there are several initiatives already in place which are addressing most of the concerns and suggestions raised in the report.