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GAO recommends USDA and FDA rethink food recall procedures.

A GAO report found that "Weaknesses in USDA's and FDA's food recall programs heighten the risk that unsafe food will remain in the food supply and ultimately be consumed ... For these and other reasons, most recalled food is not recovered and therefore may be consumed."

GAO produced the study because two large food recalls completed in 2003 were associated with 8 deaths and nearly 100 serious illnesses in at least 16 states. Manufacturers voluntarily recall potentially unsafe food by notifying their customers to return or destroy it. USDA and FDA monitor voluntary food recalls, verify that companies contact their customers, and maintain recall data. GAO examined the recall programs and procedures USDA and FDA use to protect consumers from unsafe foods and compared their food recall authority with the authority of agencies to recall other consumer products.

Weaknesses in USDA's and FDA's food recall programs heighten the risk that unsafe food will remain in the food supply and ultimately be consumed.

Specifically, USDA and FDA do not know how promptly and completely the recalling companies and their distributors and other customers are carrying out recalls, and neither agency is using its data systems to effectively track and manage its recall programs.

For these and other reasons, most recalled food is not recovered and therefore may be consumed. GAO's analysis of recalls in 2003 showed that about 38 percent and 36 percent of recalled food was ultimately recovered in recalls overseen by USDA and FDA, respectively. These agencies also told GAO of instances in which companies were slow to reveal where they had distributed the food or provided inaccurate customer lists. Moreover, GAO found that the agencies did not complete verification checks for some recalls before the shelf life of the food expired. In addition, consumer groups and others question the usefulness of USDA's and FDA's efforts to communicate with the public, suggesting alternatives such as posting notices in grocery stores and direct notification of consumers.

GAO proposes that Congress consider legislation requiring a company to notify USDA or FDA if it discovers it has distributed unsafe food and giving agencies authority to order food recalls, and recommends that the agencies take actions to ensure prompt, complete recalls and better recall monitoring. USDA said the report was generally accurate and its May 2004 directive will address weaknesses GAO found. FDA did not believe its system lengthened recalls or its processes reduced recovery and disagreed with some of the GAO recommendations.
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Comment:GAO recommends USDA and FDA rethink food recall procedures.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 25, 2004
Words:409
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