The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has criticized US officials’ response to the peanut butter salmonella outbreak, calling it ‘woefully inadequate’.
It said that the relatively long shelf life of peanut products could leave the public at risk of illness unless the FDA acts “effectively to remove contaminated products from stores”.
Kellogg’s, for example, gives its Keebler and Famous Amos Cookies – both of which have been recalled – a shelf life of 240 days.
At present, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can request companies to recall food products voluntarily if it suspects contamination, and provides recommendations to firms that initiate their own voluntary recalls.
The CSPI, however, has said that voluntary recalls do not go far enough to ensure food safety.
It said: “Without mandates for recall and few inspectors, the agency’s ability to protect the public is minimal. This latest outbreak proves again that FDA is woefully inadequate to the task of protecting American consumers from unsafe food.”
Thirteen days after the initial recall of King Nut brand peanut butter, and ten days after the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) announced a nationwide recall, the list of recalled – possibly contaminated – products continues to grow by the day, now at nearly 130.
The CSPI said: “There is no credible voice communicating to the public and the industry what can be done to prevent further outbreaks.”
The organization has also criticized what it called the “fragmented program at the FDA” saying that responsibilities of the commissioner are spread too thin, taking in food as well as drugs, medical devices and cosmetics. It has called for an approach which, with extra funding, “would bring the program elements together and put an expert in charge.”
These comments follow a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday in which the FDA’s Stephen Sundlof put forward the view that the industry itself needs to take its share of responsibility for preventing outbreaks.
He said: “When this happens it represents a failure of…an individual within the industry of living up to what is expected of them both legally and from a moral standpoint.”
“It is not the responsibility of the consumer to make sure that the product that they receive is a safe product. That is the responsibility of the food industry and with the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration.”
So far there have been 486 cases of salmonella linked to the PCA plant in Georgia. Of these, 107 have been hospitalized, with the outbreak being held as the possible cause of six deaths. The most recent case reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was on January 8, but because it can take up to three weeks for new cases to be reported, more are expected.