Opinion: New federal food recall guidelines may improve food safety

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If you are like me you probably don’t like your chicken nuggets with a side of plastic and metallic surprises.  It’s been a bad twelve months for Big Ag companies.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says in 2018 there have been dozens of recalls involving millions of pounds of sausage, calzones and chicken whatnots contaminated with metal, plastic and other foreign non-food bits of dangerous materials.

Here’s a sample:

In February 2018,  Pilgrims Pride recalled more than 100,000 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken patties that potentially contained rubber.

In April 2018, Hormel recalled more than 228,000 pounds of pork and chicken canned goods potentially containing pieces of metal.

In June 2018, Tyson Foods recalled more than 3,100 pounds of frozen breaded chicken potentially containing blue and clear soft plastic.

In September 2018, Wayne Farms LLC recalled more than 438,000 pounds of cooked chicken parts potentially containing metal pieces.

In December 2018, CTI Foods LLC recalled more than 29,000 pounds of frozen ready-to-eat pork and poultry sausage links potentially containing metal pieces.

And then last month Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Pilgrims Pride recalled more than 110,000 pounds of processed chicken either contaminated with rubber or failing to report milk as an ingredient on the label.

Media types asked Tyson, Perdue, and Pilgrims Pride for comments.  How could this happen?

Perdue and Pilgrims Pride had nothing to say.  Tyson says such incidents are rare.

Yeah, all this is a problem.

Way back in 2016, I blogged that the voluntary food recall system was flawed and needed a overhaul ASAP.

You didn’t need to take my word for it.  The Office of the Inspection General came to the same conclusion.

The OIG found lack of federal oversight on recalls especially damning concluding:

For all 30 voluntary recalls in our sample, after FDA first became aware that an adulterated or misbranded product could be in the food supply chain, it did not prescribe a timeline for each firm to initiate a recall. For two recalls, the firms did not initiate the recall of all potentially harmful products until 165 days and 81 days after FDA became aware of the potential.

As long as I can remember Big Ag companies have been slow on the draw in voluntarily recalls, notifying the federal government when consumers have complained about weird (and sometimes dangerous stuff) is in their food.

Rather than take consumer complaint at face value Big Ag acts self-righteously.

Senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for North American Meat Institute, Mark Dopp says, “Frankly a lot of consumer complaints are bogus.”

It seems that USDA is begging to differ.  The uptick in foreign matter contamination  has caught the attention of USDA, which is issuing new guidelines for Big Ag companies to self-report (a fancy way of saying voluntarily) if contaminated food is in the marketplace.

USDA is calling for food producers to start internal investigations of customer complaints and to notify the feds within 24 hours.  No more dragging of the feet.

FSIS is encouraging Big Ag food producers to implement the new guidelines immediately, although there is a 60-day public comment period that could lead to some tweaking.

It’s about time.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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