NEW YORK—In light of a recent flood of recalls, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was joined by food advocates such as the Safe Tables Our Priority organization (STOP) in Morton Williams Supermarket in Manhattan to discuss new legislation to ensure that shoppers were notified of recalls.
“The current system to notify consumers is completely antiquated,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “In America, in 2010, it is unconscionable that we don’t have an effective way to let consumers know about recalls.”
Along with one of the largest national egg recalls in U.S. history, with 2,000 reported illnesses and half a billion eggs recalled in 14 states, 8,000 gallons of milk were recalled in New York and three other states last week.
Last year, Sen. Gillibrand’s office released a report that showed over 900 food products that had been recalled in New York City since 2005, and that more than 2 million New Yorkers get sick from tainted food each year.
Food recalls fall under three categories. Class III recalls are when eating the contaminated food is very unlikely to cause health consequences, Class II recalls are products with potential health hazards, and Class I recalls involve a case where eating the food has a high probability of serious and possibly fatal consequences.
Sen. Gillibrand’s Consumer Recall Notification Act, to be voted on at the end of the month, would require retailers and restaurants to be notified of Class I recalls within 24 hours of the FDA’s public announcement. The information will also be published by the FDA online, so both consumers and stores will have easy access to a list of food and products under recall.
“As it is now, consumers do not have easy access to basic and potentially lifesaving information about the food we eat,” said Pam Berger from STOP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing food-borne illness and death. “The system as it is now is out of date and ineffective, and the solution Sen. Gillibrand is proposing is a common sense and direct approach. We have the right to know if the food we are bringing home to our families could sicken them, and we shouldn’t have to have a background in research to access this information.”
The new system would ensure that regular shoppers be notified of recalls within 24 hours. Stores selling these food products would be required to either place a notice at the register, the shelf, or freezer carrying the product, another prominent location, or use their membership card system to call and contact customers who have bought the recalled products. The penalty for failing to do so within 24 hours in the case of a Class I recall is a fine between $1,000 and $50,000.
Also in the case of a Class I recall, the FDA would be required to pass on information and advisories to states, local health departments, and health professionals such as emergency departments and pediatricians that included timely information on symptoms to look and test for.