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Survey of store recall notification policies shows efforts are ‘inadequate’

A new survey of 32 leading grocery chains about their in-store recall notification practices reveals policies so “woefully inadequate” that consumers may or may not hear about recalled food items, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should move quickly to adopt a standardized recall notification system as required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

recall-notice-iphoneThat’s according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group formed in 1971.

Some stores routinely post recall notices where shoppers are likely to see them. Yet others, such as Pittsburgh, PA-based Giant Eagle, do not, according to CSPI’s survey. The group noted that still others, such as Whole Foods and Aldi, would not reveal their recall notification policies.

Most chains responding to the CSPI survey post product recall notices in their stores, but the placement varies. Some post recalls at store entrances, some at cash registers, and some where the recalled product had been removed from store shelves, CSPI reported.

FSMA requires FDA to put together recall notices using producer information, which grocery chains of 15 stores or larger would then post in easily visible locations for two weeks. However, CSPI states that FDA has yet to adopt this notification system even though FSMA was signed into law in January 2011.

In a letter sent Wednesday to FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, CSPI’s senior staff attorney, David W. Plunkett, wrote that FDA has so far only conducted one public hearing and issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking about the recall notification process.

grocery-recalls-406“We surveyed the leading chains for the report and found that most already post notices in the store. The practice, however, is not universal, demonstrating that voluntary actions, while laudable, cannot replace mandatory rules,” Plunkett told Ostroff in the letter.

The survey, detailed in CSPI’s report “Building a Food Recall System that Really Protects Consumers,” also asked retailers if they use data collected by loyalty cards or other programs to directly notify consumers who have purchased recalled foods.

The top three — Walmart, Kroger and Costco — said that they do directly notify consumers. Others, such as Publix, H-E-B and Whole Foods, don’t have loyalty cards or frequent shopper programs that collect data. Food Lion, Cub Foods and Winn-Dixie, which indicated that they do collect such data, didn’t disclose whether they use it to notify consumers about recalls, CSPI reported.

CSPI recommended that consumers keep an eye out for recall notices in supermarkets and safely dispose of, or return, recalled products. Consumers should also make sure that grocery stores with membership cards or customer loyalty programs have their accurate contact information on file.

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