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.