andrew schneider investigates

March 28, 2008

Keeping sellers of recalled food secret

Filed under: FDA,Food labeling,Food Safety,Public health legislation — Andrew Schneider @ 11:11

One could argue that secrecy is important for some government operations, but it’s hard to understand the logic behind the USDA being told to conceal the names of the stores that sell food recalled because of health risks.

For the most part, all a consumer can get from the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration is that a recall is under way of product A, B or C. Rarely does the government disclose which retailers might be selling the recalled products.

For example, this morning the FDA sent out two notices that a firm in Southern California and another in Miami were recalling more Honduran cantaloupe that might be contaminated with salmonella. The melons from the Miami company are being sold throughout the country under various brand names and different packaging. The California products are even more difficult to track because they are diced and sliced and mixed with other fruits in a variety of wrappings and labels. Shortly before noon, Chiquita, issued its recall for the same Central American fruit.
Apparently not everyone
None of the warnings listed which stores were selling their recalled products so I tried to call one of the companies directly.

After about 25-minutes on hold I spoke to a Chiquita customer service representative who said she didn’t know and told me call their corporate headquarters. There, a very polite operator said no one was available but connected me to a someone’s voice mail where I was promised a prompt call back. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: By late afternoon, Ed Loyd, a spokesman for Chiquita, sent me an email saying “While we quickly provided a list of our customers to the FDA . . . it is a proprietary list and as such not one that we would provide publicly.” But he says he warned “100 percent of our customers.”

Shortly before 5 p.m., the FDA sent out yet another recall alert for the possibly tainted fruit, this one in the neighborhood.

Spokane Produce Inc. is recalling Garden Patch, Yokes, and Rosauers Classic labels of various products of fresh cut and cut fruits containing cantaloupe,” said Dan Petek of the company which serves stores and military facilities in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Petek said he notified all his customers last Saturday, the same day FDA issued the initial warning. Not only did he name the stores that handled his products, his notification listed each packageing and size for every product that contained the questionable melon and the “sell by” date so customers would know what they’re dealing with, he said.

But not every food supplier is as open as Petek so let’s get back to why the government should release the names of retailers when a serious recall is issued.

The pressure on the agencies to conceal the retailers is coming from industry lobbyists for food chains, meat packers and importers. In fact, USDA first proposed a regulation requiring disclosure of where dangerous recalled food is being sold in February 2005. Nothing has happened since.

Tony Corbo of public advocacy group Food & Water Watch told me, “The main impediment has been the White House Office of Management and Budget which is responsible for clearing major regulation changes.

“The food industry has effectively lobbied OMB thus far to prevent the implementation of this rule.”

Trade associations representing both the supermarkets and the meatpackers have argued that the lists of retailers are proprietary information. The supermarket chains’ Food Marketing Institute has been especially active in its opposition to the proposed regulation arguing that the reputations of its members could be forever damaged if consumers knew that they sold contaminated product, Corbo, FWW’s legislative director, said.

If supermarket information is part of government recall announcements, consumers will make a faster association with recent purchases they made. This is important, he says, because government food safety “officials have publicly admitted that they are able to recover only a very small fraction of meat and poultry products that have been the subject of recall.”

He says the food safety agency has launched a “trial balloon” that said only announcements for Class I recalls — those that involve adulterated products in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death — should contain retailer information.

“That is simply not acceptable,” he said, and cited the recent 143 million pound meat recall involving Hallmark/Westland in Chino, Calif. — the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

“It would have been exempted from this requirement since USDA classified it as a Class II recall.

“If the government announces a product recall, it is trying to remove the product from commerce as expeditiously as possible. There should be no differentiation in policy,” said Corbo.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: