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That’s the mantra chanted by FDA whenever they are asked to provide retail distribution information for recalled products.

It’s the mantra offered by some State Departments of Health – and, on occasion, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – when asked for details on outbreak cases in their states.

And it’s the mantra offered by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to justify NOT announcing or publicizing product recalls associated with the Canadian beef in which the agency found E. coli O157:H7.

OK. Let me be fair.

When FDA refuses to release retail distribution information, they say that this is proprietary information and can only be released by the company that initiated the “voluntary” recall.

When a State Department of Health declines to release information on outbreak cases, it’s usually because “CDC is taking the lead in this investigation” or to protect patient privacy.

When CDC declines to release information, it’s because State “X” is “taking the lead” in the investigation.

And, in the case of FSIS, their justification is:

FSIS issues Public Health Alerts to make the public aware of a public health hazard. FSIS is not announcing a recall at this time because the goal of such an action is to have the establishment most directly associated with producing adulterated product remove the product from commerce. In this case, the establishment was XL Foods, Inc., a Canadian firm, and that recall has been initiated in Canada. CFIA is overseeing the effectiveness of the recall in Canada and FSIS is overseeing the effectiveness in the United States. FSIS continues to verify U.S. establishments’ use of primal and non-primal cuts associated with the XL Foods recall and will take appropriate action if prohibited activity is found.

It still boils down to “It’s Not Our Job!

This rationalization flies in the face of logic, and of what should be the primary role of FSIS – to protect public health. It also is completely at a variance with recent FSIS actions in other recall situations involving “secondary” recalls.

A scan of the Active Recall list on the FSIS web site yielded the following examples:

  • July 14, 2011:- Palmex, Inc. (Champlain, NY) recalled imported, ready-to-eat smoked duck breast products. The product was recalled by the Canadian manufacturer due to possible Salmonella contamination.
  • July 14, 2011:- Sid Wainer & Son, Inc. (New Bedford, MA) recalled imported, ready-to-eat smoked duck breast products. The product was recalled by the Canadian manufacturer due to possible Salmonella contamination.
  • October 1, 2011:- Greencore USA, Inc. (Cincinnati, OH) recalled Thornton’s Quick Café’s Chef Salad products after being notified by its grape tomato supplier that the grape tomatoes used in the products were potentially contaminated with Salmonella. The grape tomatoes were the subject of a Food and Drug Administration recall.
  • February 2, 2012:- Greencore USA, Inc. (Cincinnati, OH) recalled Chef Salad products because the salads contained eggs that were the subject of a Food and Drug Administration recall due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.
  • July 27, 2012:- LSG Sky Chefs (Orlando, FL) recalled RaceTrac Chipotle Chicken Wrap, because the product contained diced onions that were the subject of a Food and Drug Administration recall due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.
  • August 1, 2012:- Garden Fresh Foods (Milwaukee, WI) recalled 13,600 pounds of meat and poultry salad products, because the product contained diced onions that were the subject of a Food and Drug Administration recall due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

And let’s not forget this example from the Recall Archives:

  • Sysco Seattle Inc. (Seattle, WA) recalls 16,800 pounds of ground beef patties imported from Canada because the patties may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The products were manufactured by New Food Classics (Burlington, Ontario) and imported by Sysco Seattle.

So how does FSIS justify its utter lack of leadership in publicizing the product recalls initiated by companies such as Interstate Meat Distributors, Morasch Meat, Wolverine Packing Co. and other US establishments?

Meat processing companies, distributors, food service operators, retailers, AND CONSUMERS deserve – and should demand – the active support of FSIS in this recall. We should not have to rely on retailers’ web pages and on food service companies such as US Foods to provide us with a list of recalled products. We should not have to rely on good luck to avoid purchasing and consuming contaminated food.

If the people at FSIS can’t do their jobs, then they should stand aside and let a more competent crew take over.

It’s Not Our Job!” doesn’t cut it any more.

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