Huge Problem with the Way the FDA Handles Recalls

In 2015, the FDA sent 17,232 warning letters to manufacturers, had 2,789 recall events, and recalled 9,178 recalled products. While these statistics would seem to indicate the agency stays fairly busy, the Office of the Inspector General believes the FDA moves much too slowly on food recalls. The OIG reviewed 30 cases of food recalls by the FDA between 2012 and 2015 in order to determine just how efficient the system really is. Following this review, the OIG’s conclusion was that the FDA simply does not have adequate policies and procedures in place that would encourage manufacturers to take prompt action when a voluntary food recall is warranted.

Examples of Slow Food Recalls

More specifically, the OIG determined consumers were at risk of illness or death for a period of weeks even after the FDA was made aware of a potentially hazardous food. As an example, many will remember the case of the peanut butter contaminated with salmonella, which took a full five months between the time the FDA identified a problem, and the time a recall was issued. Another case of listeria-contaminated cheese took three months between the time the FDA was aware there was a problem and the time the company finally issued a recall—following a death, one miscarriage, and a number of serious illnesses.

Update of Policies and Procedures Needed?

The OIG believes the FDA needs an overhaul and update of policies and procedures, which would set much stricter timeframes in which recalls are issued after a problem is detected. While the FDA agreed that it must “move as expeditiously as possible,” the agency felt each timeframe should be set individually rather than with an arbitrary deadline, adding that because recall events are so complex, a single timeline is not only unhelpful, but nearly impossible as well.

FDA Points Finger at Food Manufacturers

The FDA also said food companies needed to share in the blame, since it was the food companies who delayed taking action once a problem had been identified. One person noted that in this situation it appeared the OIG audit showed the FDA is “like a watchdog who sees an intruder break in, barks once, and then happily goes back to sleep.” In other words, making a polite request to a food manufacturer following serious findings that could potentially harm the American public is simply not enough.

Who Is Responsible?

It is important to remember that if you or a member of your household can ingest a product in any way, the FDA is responsible for your safety, whether it be food or drugs. That is, unless the product is meat, poultry or eggs, in which case the USDA has jurisdiction and is responsible for your safety. There can often be a crossover between the two agencies—for example, if something contaminates a frozen pizza line assembly, the pepperoni and sausage pizzas will be recalled by the USDA, while the cheese and veggie pizzas will be recalled by the FDA.

Recalls Begin with a Complaint

It is also important to remember that almost every recall for every product or food, with every single agency, began with a complaint. In other words, you, the consumer, have a responsibility as well. If you eat something that makes you sick, or if you own something which is defective, mislabeled or dangerous, do your part—make a report to the correct agency immediately. The other ways recalls begin include:

  • A problem turns up following a state or federal inspection of a facility
  • A random sampling program turns up a problematic food
  • State health departments notify the federal government after a consumer gets sick from a food item

It remains to be seen whether the FDA will take the OIG’s findings to heart, and set into motion some tighter deadlines for food manufacturers to recall a potentially dangerous food item.

Contact a Philadelphia Product Liability Lawyer

If you have suffered injury or harm because of a defective product, food recall, or faulty medical device, it could be extremely beneficial to speak to an experienced product liability attorney who can help you recover damages for your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. Call the product liability lawyers at Golomb Legaltoday for a consultation and to learn about your legal options. Our goal is to get you the greatest maximum recovery for your physical and emotional suffering.