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New audit finds holes in FDA food-safety recall guidelines

by Joan Murphy | June 24, 2011

WASHINGTON — Four cantaloupe shipments from Honduras were among the 17 recalls a new government study said shows that the Food & Drug Administration’s recall guidelines are not adequate to police imports.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services auditors looked at food recalls from 2007 and 2008 and checked to see if companies followed the FDA recall guidelines and if the administration followed through with audit checks.

“FDA’s guidance for developing and implementing food recalls was not adequate to ensure the safety of the Nation’s food supply because it was not enforceable,” the HHS Office of Inspection General said in its June 21 report. “In addition, the FDA did not always follow its own procedures for ensuring that the recall process operated efficiently and effectively.”

Among the lapses were that some firms failed to initiate recalls fast enough, neglected to submit recall strategies, did not pass along complete and accurate recall information to consignees and did not submit complete recall status reports to regulators.

For example, the study said that a recall of Salmonella-contaminated cantaloupes did not specify the point to which the recall extended in the distribution chain.

The FDA was no better, the report found. The agency failed to inspect facilities or obtain complete information on the tainted products in 14 out of 17 recalls. In some cases, the agency did not review recall strategies, conduct audit checks of consignees or obtain documentation proving the disposal of the products.

The report came a day after the FDA released a 36-page report, Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality, which spells out a new long-term plan to better coordinate with other countries on import safety.