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Why Does the FDA Take So Long to Recall Food?

Senator Chuck Schumer says the slow recall process puts lives at risk

Democratic National Convention: Day Two Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The process to recall food is not a simple one. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recalling any regulated product requires multiple steps, including conducting inspections, collecting samples, and evaluating the risk posed by a particular product. The time required to complete all those steps — in some cases, more than 100 days — can be detrimental to public health, argues Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is now looking to streamline that process.

Schumer points to a recent E. coli-related flour recall affecting 21 states, saying that despite the first confirmed illnesses occurring in December 2015, the first mandatory recall wasn’t issued until six months later in May.

A recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General backs up Schumer’s claims, arguing the FDA does not “have policies and procedures to ensure that firms or responsible parties initiated voluntary food recalls promptly.”

The Inspector General’s office reviewed 30 food recalls between 2012 and 2015. In one instance, the FDA didn’t recall tainted cheese until 81 days after the first linked illness was reported; during that time, one infant death and two miscarriages were linked to the consumption of that cheese.

In another incident, the FDA took 165 days to recall nut butter, which eventually led to 14 illnesses in 11 states.

In a press release, Schumer called those sorts of delays “a recipe for disaster,” calling on the FDA to come up with a revamped plan to take potentially contaminated food off the shelves.

“The food recall process is too slow and unduly exposes countless Americans to food that can make them sick — or even kill them,” he said. “In some cases, the FDA waits months before issuing recalls on potentially contaminated food products. That’s why I’m urging the FDA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of their contaminated food recall process with an eye towards speeding things up.”

Below, a chart from the Inspector General chronicles the lengthy process of the aforementioned cheese recall:

Inspector General

Sen. Schumer Calls Out FDA for Taking Too Long to Issue Food Recalls [NY Daily News]

Schumer: Feds Too Slow at Getting Bad Foods Off Shelves [Press Release]

How Food Recalls Really Work [Eater]

All Food Safety Coverage [Eater]