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Steven J. Klearman
Steven J. Klearman
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Understanding Food Recalls & Classifications

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued 37 separate recalls and alerts, since the start of summer 2014, while the Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued 14.

A host of different reasons can lead to a recall, including but not limited to the mislabeling (such as undeclared ingredients involving nuts or eggs) or improper processing while other recalls are due to contamination of Salmonella and Listeria. Both which can be severe in some cases.

“An estimated 48 million people – 1 in 6 Americans – contract some form of food poisoning each year,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mislabeled and contaminated foods slip by from time to time and it is the federal government’s duty to help minimize the risk to public safety but what power does the agency hold?

Before the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into effect in 2011, the agency was able to strongly suggest action, but it did not rein authority to issue a mandatory recall of potentially harmful foods.

The FDA oversees all food not under FSIS jurisdiction and evaluates each case to determine the risk to public safety. In most instances the agency works with the producer to take corrective action and alert the public. All cases are listed on the FDA website, but more severe ones are communicated to the media via press release. In cases where public safety risk is particularly high, the Food Safety Modernization Act permits the agency to shut down manufacturing until the threat has been contained. This power was first used by the agency in November 2012 when a multistate outbreak of peanut butter was linked to salmonella.

To further understand the recall process, the FDA and FSIS use a three-tier classification for the threat posed by the food:

“Class I recall: a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

“Class II recall: a situation in which use of or exposure to a violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote.

“Class III recall: a situation in which use of or exposure to a violative product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.”