Few would have predicted that when history is written on the first term of the Obama Administration that peanuts and pistachios would play such prominent roles.   Those unlikely products, however, will be used by historians to demonstrate the bad old ways versus the new U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Maybe because the new President himself came from the streets of Chicago, he went to the front lines of the country’s public health challenge to select Dr. Margaret Hamburg as FDA Commissioner and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, as her deputy.   Dr. Hamburg, an expert in biological defense and disease control, was during the 1990s the youngest person in history to serve as New York City’s health commissioner.  Dr. Sharfstein, a pediatrician, came to FDA directly from heading up the Baltimore Health Department.

It is really hard to overstate how unusual it is to have two top FDA officials from the gritty streets of big cities.   Almost all previous FDA Commissioners come from academic and research backgrounds.  You can go through each biography of past FDA Commissioners here

Few had any in-the-streets experience.   LBJ’s last commissioner, Dr. James Goddard, came out of the Public Health Service at a time when federal doctors wore uniforms and saw patients.   And Nixon’s appointee, Dr. Herbert Lay, Jr., was known for his service as an epidemiologist for our troops in Korea and Vietnam.

But that’s about it.   FDA Commissioners have not been folks who got their hands dirty, knocking down the TB rate in the Big Apple as Dr. Hamburg did or taking on the dangers of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines for children under age 2 as Dr. Sharfstein did.  The typical FDA honcho creates process, not results.

So when Sharfstein took over FDA, while waiting for Hamburg to clear the Senate, it really should have come as no surprise that he opted to recall Salmonella-contaminated pistachios before anyone got sick.

The FDA has completed its inspection of Salmonella contamination in pistachios and pistachio products at Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc., Terra Bella, Calif., and presented a 483 Inspection Report to the firm.

Continue Reading Peanuts and Pistachios & The New Team In Charge Of FDA

There has for a long time been valid criticism of food recalls, both with regard to how agencies like the FDA implement them, and whether recalls really work to prevent foodborne illness.  In my view, most recalls are best described as closing the barn-doors after the horses have escaped.  But that said, when a food product is determined to be contaminated, there is no avoiding the need to try to remove the product from the market.  That means recalls are necessary.  It also means that recalls need to be effective as possible at limiting the spread of foodborne disease. According to a great and interesting new study out of Rutgers’ Food Policy Institute, it appears that recalls are anything but effective in prompting necessary public action.  For example, in a survey of over 1,100, the study found that only about 60 percent of the studied sample reported ever having looked for recalled food in their homes, and only 10 percent said they had ever found a recalled food product.

This is a disturbing finding, because, unless we can reliably count on the public to take the actions necessary to prevent the spread of foodborne disease, we may be assuming that recalls work when, in fact, they do not.  This study thus deserves to be read carefully by public health officials, and additional research definitely seems to be needed.

The full study can be found here: www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/docs/news/RR-0109-018.pdf

To read the full press release announcing the study, please hit the Continued Reading link.


Continue Reading Recalls Found to be Even Less Effective Than Expected