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USDA and FDA Need to Track Food Recalls Better, GAO Says.

USDA and FDA do not systematically track company activities to ensure that tainted food recalls are initiated and carried out without delay, according to a report from the General Accounting Office (GAO). The two agencies were able to identify a specific contaminant for each of the 61 recalls they considered to be associated with an outbreak. However, USDA and FDA generally were unable to determine how the food became contaminated, says GAO. According to agency officials, the report says, efforts to determine the cause of contamination generally are not successful because so much time passes (up to several weeks or months) before an illness is linked to a specific food.

While GAO only found a small number of cases where companies failed to comply with an initial recall request, some of those recalls involved serious foodborne illness outbreaks. USDA and FDA documented more 3,700 food recalls from the mid-1980s through 1999. USDA identified 515 recalls of fresh and processed meat and poultry from 1984 to 1999 and FDA identified 3,248 recalls of other foods from 1986 to 1999. GAO identified nine instances during that time where companies delayed compliance with an FDA recall request. GAO identified two instances where USDA appeared to delay in requesting a recall. The report recommends USDA and FDA should strengthen their guidance to companies on recalls that involve serious health risks and to improve their ability to assess the timeliness of company recall actions.

The report was requested by Sen. Tom Harkin (D. Iowa) and Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.). Harkin believes the report supports mandatory recall authority for both USDA and FDA. He has introduced a bill (S 18) to grant USDA mandatory recall authority and is beginning work on legislation granting FDA similar authorities, which he expects to introduce early next year.
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Comment:USDA and FDA Need to Track Food Recalls Better, GAO Says.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 25, 2000
Words:300
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