hamburger recallThe June issue of Food Protection Report contains an article titled, “Seeking Ways around Information Roadblocks,” which provides an analysis of different issues that impact the flow of information regarding recalled food products. The current recall system prohibits the distribution of vital recall information from federal to state public health agencies, preventing state health officers from receiving word regarding the distribution of recalled products such as hamburger that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. States are then unable to communicate to appropriate retail establishments and consumers regarding the recalled products.

Food Protection Report points out:

It can be very frustrating to the states, which have been collecting information on illnesses and exposure and sharing that with CDC and FDA, that the federal agencies “are not in a position to share with the states what we found,” [Sharri McGarry, emergency coordinator in the office of Food Defense, Communications and Emergency Response in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition] said.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service partially solved this problem for itself by issuing a new rule last year. Under the rule, if the agency gathers information through its traceback activities and finds where adulterated product has been, it can share that information with states to which the product has been shipped, explained David Goldman, assistant administrator for the FSIS Office of Public Health Science. However, the agency can’t just get a distribution list from a company and publish that, Goldman said.

According to its Website on food recall policy, USDA currently measures food recall effectiveness by FSIS “effectiveness checks” to make sure that the firm recalling product makes reasonable efforts to notify consignees of recalled product that the product should be removed from commerce. FSIS conducts a number of effectiveness checks to verify that the firm recalling product is contacting consignees. After these effectiveness checks are complete and FSIS is satisfied that the recalling firm has contacted all consignees or has made reasonable efforts to do so, FSIS notifies the recalling firm that the recall is complete. No further action is expected.

Marler Clark epidemiologist Patti Waller and attorney Denis Stearns wrote a column titled, “Where’s the Meat? The Need for Full Public Disclosure in Meat Recalls” for the Journal of Environmental Health’s June 2006 issue. The article focuses on the USDA’s proposed rule on changing policy regarding public disclosure of the names of retail outlets that received potentially contaminated meat during a meat recall. The authors argue, “The revised recall policy proposed by USDA represents a commonsense approach that balances industry concerns and the public’s right to know. It is thus deserving of widespread public support.”

The sooner these issues are resolved, the better.