The FDA Will Soon Have the Power to Recall Unsafe Food

In a move aimed at counterterrorist measures, the FDA is gaining more direct control over America’s food supply

By Katherine Whittaker

Published on May 31, 2016

During a 15-day period in May, American companies recalled a whopping 19 food products for consumer safety. And they've all been voluntary. Up until recently, the federal government has had no power to mandate a food recall, but as Vocativ reports, that's going to change.

On May 26th, the FDA released information on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a series of guidelines that all companies registered with the FDA as food facilities will follow starting in 2021. Vocativ notes that in the future, the FDA "will have mandatory recall authority for all food products" and the legislative power to pressure companies to recall dangerous food. This is a big jump from the FDA's current stance: Right now they are only allowed to "strongly suggest" companies recall tainted products.

The reason behind future recalls will also change under these regulations. The FSMA “is aimed at preventing intentional adulteration from acts intended to cause wide-scale harm to public health, including acts of terrorism targeting the food supply. Such acts, while not likely to occur, could cause illness, death, economic disruption of the food supply absent mitigation strategies.” Vocativ points out that these “acts” refer mostly to potential food-based terrorist attacks.

The FDA's recall page indicates how frequently recalls happen. On May 13th, Trader Joe's recalled some frozen products that could have been contaminated with Listeria, and only three days earlier, a kale and edamame salad from the same company was recalled in 11 states due to potential salmonella.

Vocativ reports that suppliers and food corporations will be the ones responsible for drafting "food defense plans" for FDA approval. These plans will not only point out their weak spots in food safety, but also suggest improvements. Once a defense plan is approved, the FDA will "routinely inspect facilities to ensure that companies are taking their own plans seriously and meeting the minimum guidelines." Farms and smaller companies are exempted from these regulations, but 3,400 firms operating 9,800 facilities will still need to comply.

But you shouldn't expect to see a dramatic uptick in recalls once the new regulations take effect; as Vocativ quotes the FDA, it “will only need to invoke this authority infrequently since the food industry largely honors our requests for voluntary recalls.”

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