FDA Will ID Retailers in ‘Serious’ Food Recalls

FDA Will ID Retailers in ‘Serious’ Food Recalls
FDA will now provide retailer information in recalls where the agency believes public health is at risk

New draft guidance released by the Food and Drug Administration outlines situations in which the agency deems it appropriate to disclose retailer information in relation to food recalls, such as in cases when consumption of the recalled food “has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.”

“The agency has not traditionally released lists of specific retailers where recalled foods may have been purchased,” noted FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement accompanying the release of the draft guidance. “This is because certain supply chain information is confidential between the supplier and retailer. Moreover, in most cases, information publicized by the recalling company is sufficient to allow consumers to identify and avoid recalled product. But there are some cases where additional information about the retailers selling potentially harmful product may be key to protecting consumers, such as when the food is not easily identified as being subject to a recall from its retail packaging and the food is likely to be available for consumption. It is particularly important in situations where the product has already been linked to foodborne illness. In these situations, providing retailer information can help consumers more quickly and accurately recognize recalled product and take action to avoid the product or seek assistance if they’ve already been exposed.”

Some examples of items subject to the new policy are foods sold directly to consumers with no universal product code (UPC) or bar code, including deli cheese, nuts, rawhide chews or pet treats sold in bulk, and fresh fruits and vegetables sold individually. Additionally, the agency might release retailer information for a packaged food that was distributed in a particular geographic region or through a particular online retailer if providing the information could help consumers safeguard their health.

FDA has already begun taking actions in alignment with this policy, including the release this past summer of detailed retail distribution information by state in connection with a recall of pre-cut melon associated with a Salmonella outbreak, with the aim of enabling consumers to better determine where the recalled food may have been purchased.

According to Gottlieb, “The draft guidance … provides greater transparency on our intention to regularly use this approach in these and other scenarios.”

The commissioner added that “providing retailer information for certain recalls will also improve the efficiency of recalls by helping the public to identify and focus on the foods that are recalled,” although he admitted that finding out retail locations is a “complex” undertaking that “can involve obtaining information from multiple parts of the supply chain, including the recalling company and intermediate distributors.”

The new draft guidance is the second in a series of policy steps FDA has taken as part of a broader action plan to improve its oversight of food safety and the recall process. The earlier draft guidance, released this past January, concerned public warnings for consumers, outlining situations in which the agency and firms would publicize public warnings to help carry out a recall.