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Sunday, March 6, 2016

About the FDA and product recalls

The US FDA is supposed to keep consumers safe from bad food and bad ingredients. It is also responsible for the safety of drugs, cosmetics, biologics, animal health. It creates and enforces regulations to this end. They are supposed to inspect food at factories, and not let bad food get to the public.  A "recall" happens when the food has already reached consumers, but then is found to be contaminated. For safety reasons, a whole batch, or several days' worth of food is recalled and taken off the shelves.

From the FDA page:
Recalls are a firm's removal or correction of a marketed product that the FDA considers to be in violation of the laws it administers and against which the agency would initiate legal action, e.g., seizure. Recalls may be conducted on a firm's own initiative, by FDA request, or by FDA order under statutory authority.
Recalls could be based on: undeclared allergens (like milk, eggs, almonds, etc. I didn't know this was an actual rule, but it's a great idea), contamination with listeria, E. coli, or because morphine was "super potent". Although the FDA is fine with a moderate amount of bug parts in chocolate and other foods. 60 parts are allowed per 100g of chocolate. The Food Defect Action Levels (Wikipedia), first published in 1995, details the acceptable levels of contaminants in food. The FDA claims they "pose no inherent hazard to health.". In ground thyme, there are 925 or more insect "filth" allowed per 10 grams. That's 92.5 or more per gram. What percent of that would be insect parts by weight? (FDA page on chocolate bugs is here. The FDA site timed out (they may be doing maintenance at the time I went there) so here is the same page from archive.org, Oct 1, 2015, the most recent page archive.org has.)

Recent food recalls are here at the FSIS part of USDA. You'll have to click on the recall to find out how many pounds of the produce were recalled.

Here's a summary of 2014 recalls. The US gov't often does not have the resources to update these pages often, and they probably use page counters to determine which pages are the most popular, so those pages will get updated first. It contains summaries broken down by: Class (I, II. or III), reason (listeria, STEC, E. Coli, undeclared allergen, salmonella, etc), and by species (beef, pork, mixed, poultry, ovine). The total pounds are also given for each category. For 2014 there were 94 recalls, with 18.675 million pounds of produce recalled. 13 million pounds were in the category or beef products.

While the FDA tries to catch products before they reach the public, some problems are caused by shipping, for example, conditions are not cool enough during transport. This can be a problem in the middle of summer when coolers in semi-trucks cannot keep up with the heat.

Links

  1. FDA recalls
  2. Recalls.gov
  3. USDA current recalls for food
  4. You can ask questions food safety at AskKaren.gov, the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) rep. 
  5. For inspection policies, go to askfsis.gov.
  6. Foodsafety.gov recalls. Seems to have more info on recalls. Some of these sites seem duplicative. 
  7. Open.fda.gov has an API to get recall information from their database. The user constructs a web URL in a browser and grabs data that returns from it. You will need to ask them for an API key, which is a form of registration.


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