New legislation proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would give regulators more power to recall contaminated food products. It would also require retailers to improve customer notification in the event of a recall.
The Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act aims to give the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the authority to recall contaminated meat, poultry and some egg products.
"As it stands now, if foods like ground beef and sliced turkey are found to be unsafe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lacks the authority to issue a mandatory recall," Gillibrand said. "As a result, it becomes a struggle to inform consumers the food they bought is not safe to eat."
Currently, in situations where food is found to be adulterated or unsafe, or it causes foodborne illnesses, FSIS can recommend a voluntary recall by the manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer. The agency only has the power to require a recall if an adulterant is discovered — but not all foodborne pathogens are considered adulterants. E. coli O157:H7 is, but Salmonella isn't.
Under the proposed law, the Secretary of Agriculture could issue a mandatory recall of a food product regardless of whether the harmful pathogen has been declared an adulterant or not.
For retail stores, the bill would require them to prominently display an official recall notice at the point of sale or on the shelf where the food was sold. Gillibrand has also proposed that stores with customer loyalty card programs could call and email consumers when meat, poultry or eggs they have purchased are recalled.