“As it stands now, if foods like ground beef and sliced turkey are found to be unsafe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lacks the authority to issue a mandatory recall,” Gillibrand said. “As a result, it becomes a struggle to inform consumers the food they bought is not safe to eat.”
The Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act would give USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction.
Currently, if food is found to be adulterated or unsafe, or it causes foodborne illnesses, USDA can recommend that the manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer voluntarily recall the product. If the company refuses, there are some other additional actions FSIS could take to persuade a company to issue the recall, but the agency can require one only if there was an adulterant discovered.
What’s confusing is that not all foodborne pathogens are considered adulterants. For example, E. coli O157:H7 is, but Salmonella isn’t.
Last August, FSIS denied a petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to have antibiotic-resistant Salmonella declared an adulterant, making it illegal to sell food contaminated with the bacteria and allowing FSIS to issue a recall or withhold the food from commerce.
CSPI filed a revised petition in October, but under Gillibrand’s Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, the Secretary of Agriculture could issue a mandatory recall of a food regardless of whether the harmful pathogen has been declared an adulterant or not.
The bill would also require stores to improve customer notification in the event of a food recall. Stores would have to display a USDA-issued Recall Summary Notice at cash registers or on the shelf where the food was sold. Stores with customer loyalty card programs could also use their data to call and email consumers when food they have purchased has been recalled.
“I plan to introduce this bill soon in the new Congress,” Gillibrand told reporters on Thursday.
In the last Congress, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act to give FSIS the authority to declare any foodborne pathogens adulterants and recall contaminated products. It is likely that the pair will reintroduce the legislation in the House during the current 114th Congress.
“Because of the inefficiencies in our national food safety system today, when we eat, we are very often putting ourselves at great risk of becoming seriously ill, regardless of how thoroughly we cook our food,” Gillibrand said. “Lunch should not be a high-risk activity.”
Gillibrand is also throwing her support behind the Safe Food Act of 2015, introduced by DeLauro and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) last week, which would establish a single, independent federal food-safety agency.
“If we can pass this bill, we will be making the most important change to our food safety systems since Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’ and Teddy Roosevelt signed the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906,” Gillibrand said.
DeLauro, Durbin and many consumer advocacy groups have also expressed their support for a proposal in the president’s FY 2016 budget which would consolidate FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration’s food-safety components into a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.© Food Safety News