HHS inspector general: FDA is too slow on contaminated food recalls

The FDA is not working quickly enough to get contaminated food out of circulation, according to a report from the inspector general of HHS.

Here are four things to know.

1. For the report, investigators examined documentation on 30 of the 1,557 food recalls issued between 2012 and 2015. Once the FDA learned of potential health risks linked to a food product, it took an average of 57 days for food companies to remove the product from stores. The longest recall took more than 300 days. The investigators found the timeliness of the recalls was primarily determined by how quickly the companies chose to respond to the issue.

"[W]hen FDA and a firm disputed the lawfulness of a product or when firms were reluctant to initiate timely recalls, FDA's food recall initiation process could not always ensure that the nation's food supply was protected from hazardous products," wrote the investigators. "For example, in a Class I recall of an adulterated dietary supplement, FDA and the firm disagreed over whether the product was lawful, and the firm did not recall the product until 303 days after receiving a warning letter from FDA."

2. While a 2011 law grants the FDA the authority to issue a mandatory recall when a company fails to initiate a voluntary recall, the agency has only used this authority twice, according to The New York Times.

3. In an interview with the Times, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said the agency is doing more to expedite the recall process, including assigning senior staffers to review complex cases to speed up the response.

"Our ability to affect a recall in a timely fashion is a core consumer protection function of the FDA," Dr. Gottlieb told the Times. "If we're not executing that well, then we're fulfilling out mandate."

4. Nearly 50 million Americans are sickened by food borne illnesses annually. These illnesses collectively result in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year, according to the Times.

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