Proposed Bills Would Revamp Food Safety Agencies & Recall Protocols

Last year a group of legislators introduced a bill that would have given the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture the legal backbone to get unsafe meat, poultry and eggs off store shelves. While that bill died in Congress, two new measures seek to pick up the pieces, establishing a single, independent federal food-safety agency and providing new recall procedures.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced plans to propose legislation that would change the way in which regulators recall contaminated meat, poultry and eggs, and set new standards for retailers to follow when a recall is issued, Food Safety News reports.

Gillibrand’s upcoming bill comes just weeks after Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced a bill that would essentially revamp the current federal food-safety agency.

Much like the 2014 bill, Gillibrand’s measure – called the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act – aims to uncomplicate USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recall processes, giving the agency mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction.

Because the current law is vague regarding what constitutes “adulterated” meat, poultry and eggs, the USDA has been left unsure whether it has the authority to recall food that contains drug-resistant pathogens.

The crux of the problem lies in the current definitions in laws like the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which describes “adulterated” meat as containing poisons, toxic pesticides, unsafe food additives, or contains any “deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance, such article shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in or on such article does not ordinarily render it injurious to health.”

As a result, if food is found to be adulterated or unsafe, or it causes foodborne illness, the USDA can request that the manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer voluntarily recall the product.

If the company refuses the recall, FSIS can take other action, but can only require a recall if there was an adulterant discovered.

To make matters worse, only some foodborne pathogens are considered adulterants; E.Coli is, while Salmonella is not.

Under Gillibrand’s Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, the Secretary of Agriculture could issue a mandatory recall of a food regardless of whether the harmful pathogen has been declared an adulterant or not.

Additionally, the new bill would require stores to improve customer notification in the event of a food recall.

Stores would be required to display a USDA-issued Recall Summary Notice at cash registers or on the shelf where the food was sold. Retailers with customer loyalty card programs would have to use their data to call or email consumer when food they purchased has been recalled.

Gillibrand says her new initiative would take the guessing game out of food safety and would alleviate the struggle to inform consumers that their food is unsafe.

“Because of the inefficiencies in our national food safety system today, when we eat, we are very often putting ourselves at great risk of becoming seriously ill, regardless of how thoroughly we cook our food,” Gillibrand said. “Lunch should not be a high-risk activity.”

Gillibrand’s announcement of the forth-coming bill comes on the heels of the Safe Food Act of 2015 introduced last week.

That measure would establish a single, independent federal food-safety agency. Sponsors Durbin and DeLauro say the aim of the Act is to improve food safety for consumers, while also cutting back on the costs of a dispersed system with overlapping responsibilities between agencies.

The Act would provide the Food Safety Administration with mandatory recall authority for unsafe food, require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration, authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards, improve foreign food import inspections, and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.

FSIS Would Have Mandatory Recall Authority Under Proposed Bill [Food Safety News]