The FDA has acknowledged their system is flawed.
In June of 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an early report of an ongoing audit into the Food and Drug Administration’s recall process. The report stated that the FDA's recall process was too slow to keep Americans safe.
That full report, just released on Tuesday, shows the full scale of the problem.
The review, of food recalls between October 1, 2012, and May 4, 2015 confirmed that the FDA’s process is neither efficient or effective enough to provide safety for food consumers, the agency is often too slow in issuing recalls, isn’t sufficiently monitoring affected products or the overall progress of the recall itself, and has accuracy issues with its digital database, known as the Recall Enterprise System.
Led by the Office of Inspector General’s George Nedder, a team of officials reviewed 30 voluntary recalls out of the more than 1,500 reported to the FDA. Nedder told CBS News that 23 of these recalls were "Class 1," which is defined as possibly life-threatening—but the FDA could not ensure that products were recalled promptly.
Some of these recalls were well-known, such as the 2014 listeria outbreak linked to a cheese product where nine people became seriously ill and an infant died from the illness. That recall, Nedder told CBS, took more than 80 days to complete, and the company responsible for the outbreak ended up facing felony charges.
CBS This Morning reports that the FDA has initially responded to the report by forming a special team to handle high-risk recalls. It’s also exploring a new “audit process” to help improve their response time. And the FDA maintains that it takes, on average, three days or less to initiate recalls for most life-threatening outbreaks.
Your first line of defense against harmful foods is still the FDA—consumers can be aware of any national recalls by checking the agency’s announcements page, by subscribing to a newsletter service with up-to-date information, or by checking the often updated public FDA Twitter account designated for national recalls.
If you’ve come into contact with a recalled product, be sure to return it to the store where you purchased it or toss it into the trash in a sealed plastic bag so no one else can consume it. It’s also important to understand why the food is being recalled: has it become cross-contaminated with a common allergen, like peanuts, or was it tainted with pieces of metal or plastic?
Until the FDA reportedly announces new measures in the coming year, it’s important to remain aware of any potentially harmful recalls and take the necessary steps to keep yourself and your family healthy.