The Nestlé statement comes as a joint probe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focuses on the company’s Toll House cookie dough as the possible cause of an E. coli outbreak across 29 states. Sixty-nine reported illnesses have been linked to the outbreak so far, but neither Nestlé nor the FDA has yet found E. coli in the suspected cookie dough.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal gained access to Nestlé records through a Freedom of Information request to the FDA, and said in an article that the reports, which cover the past five years, show that Nestlé “refused to give inspectors access to pest-control records, environmental-testing programs and other information”. However, the company is not required by law to give inspectors this information and the article added: “Nestlé's practice isn't out of line with the rest of the food industry, FDA and industry officials said”.
In response, the company said: “Nestlé rejects the Wall Street Journal's implication that it did not cooperate with the FDA. Nestlé simply provided the FDA with all information required under the law. As the article points out, Nestlé's practice is standard within the food industry… It is our standard policy to provide the FDA and other government agencies access during routine inspections to all reports that are required by law. Nestlé continues to fully cooperate with the FDA on this ongoing investigation, and is openly sharing all requested information.”
At present, companies are only required to reveal their records if the FDA has a reasonable belief that the company’s products may cause serious harm to human health, or if a bioterrorism law is invoked.
Nestlé USA voluntarily recalled its Toll House cookie dough on June 19, after the CDC said its preliminary investigation of the outbreak indicated a “strong association” with eating the product.
The FDA’s food safety role has come under intense scrutiny recently as a wave of foodborne illness outbreaks has swept the US.
If bipartisan legislation currently moving through the House is passed, the FDA could be given greater access to company records, as well as the power to issue mandatory recalls.