Writing for AOL News (and his blog, Cold Truth) Andrew Schneider writes that the hydrolyzed vegetable protein recall reminds us that, no matter what was said in the wake of last year’s peanut butter recall, the FDA still doesn’t have the ability to pay close attention to source foods that are destined to end up in hundreds of different products.
In this most recent case, it was a test by a supplier, not an FDA representative, that caught the contaminated additive.
The FDA conducted an investigation at the company’s Las Vegas facility after a food producer that bought the flavoring from Basic Food Flavors notified federal agents that it had found Salmonella Tennessee in the vegetable protein.
In answer to the criticism about its actions during the peanut episode, FDA officials said they have no way knowing to whom suppliers sell their food products, what those products are and where they’re sold. The FDA says it doesn’t have the personnel or the needed regulations to handle the millions of shipments made within the food industry every week.
But what was seen with the dangerous peanuts, and what we’re beginning to see with the flavoring agent, is that producers of end products — those items that actually reach store and warehouse shelves — are declaring their own voluntary recalls.
A new HHS inspector general’s report sheds light on problems in the FDA’s Food Facility Registy (PDF), finding that almost half of the facilities in its analysis did not provide accurate information for the registry.
In addition, 7 percent of the facilities either failed to register or failed to cancel their registration with the FDA. The agency uses information from the registry to help track foodborne illnesses, so a lack of correct information could hamper the public health system’s ability to trace an outbreak and remove contaminated products from the food supply.
The registry, officially known as the FDA Unified Registration and Listing System, was instituted in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 and requires food facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for consumption to provide reliable information about food facilities.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including “seeking statutory authority to require facilities to reregister on a routine basis.” For its part, the FDA “noted that the study confirms problems that the agency has encountered as well as the need for additional statutory authority.”
It might be interesting for reporters to see what local businesses should be listed in the database but are not or which of them have incorrect or outdated information in the registry. Here is some technical information about the software used for the database.
Lifting the shroud: Using multiple-cause-of-death data
Fatal Food: A study of illness outbreaks