Stealth Recalls, European Style

I’ve been complaining recently about Stealth Recalls in the USA – those unpublicized recalls undertaken with FDA knowledge, but without informing consumers.

My complaints notwithstanding, I’m the first to admit that most recalls in the USA are publicized by press release and appear on the FDA or USDA recall web page. Often, they are reposted on various State web sites. In fact, recalls and food safety alerts are far better publicized overall in the USA than in Europe.

Several European governments offer fairly detailed food safety recall and alert information over the Internet – the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Denmark are a few of the best examples. Recently – in the aftermath of last summer’s deadly E. coli O104:H4 outbreak – Germany has begun posting detailed food safety recall information.

The performance of Italy – where the art of cuisine was born – is less than stellar, as witness last year’s botulism episode involving Bio Gaudiano’s Olives Stuffed with Almonds. A jar of this company’s olives was responsible for two cases of botulism in Finland. One of the victims – an elderly woman – died; a second victim from the same household survived.

The manufacturer withdrew all production lots of Almond-stuffed olives from the market last October and expanded the product withdrawn in December 2011 to encompass the entire outstanding stock. While Italian consumers were advised of the initial product recall, their Ministry of Health did not bother informing the population of the expanded recall. Italians had to rely on the Irish and Finnish governments for information on the expanded list of recalled products.

France – the birthplace of Appert, Pasteur, and the science of food preservation – is even worse. Even though the Bio Gaudiano Almond-stuffed Olives were distributed to France, the French government site never notified the public of this botulism-related recall. 

France is shockingly lax in its food safety consumer alerts. Last December, I reported on the Salmonella outbreak linked to Label Rouge dried sausage products (manufactured by La Société Salaison Polette ZA). The official recall notice referenced a “strong suspicion” that Salmonella was present in the products. The notification issued to member countries of the European Union (RASFF Notification #2011.1880) referred to a foodborne Salmonella outbreak.

Nor has France turned over a new leaf in the New Year. In February, the French government notified European Union members (RASFF Notification #2012.0265) that a French-manufactured chilled ready-to-eat sausage spread was contaminated with Salmonella. The spread was distributed both in France and in Germany. There was no public notification of the product recall either in France or in Germany, and the manufacturer and brand never were identified.

I have yet to encounter a reasonable justification for withholding this food safety information from the consuming public.

I challenge the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed to reveal brand names and manufacturers of recalled and withdrawn products – especially ready-to-eat products, and foods that are contaminated with pathogenic microbes.

I challenge France and Italy to match their EU partners – the UK, Denmark, Germany, and even Greece – in alerting the public to food safety recalls and alerts.

And I challenge the US government to take the world lead in improving the dissemination of food safety alerts and recall information.

My Food Safety Magic Wand

A few weeks ago, the publisher of Food Safety News asked me to consider what I would do if I had a food safety magic wand. The following contribution was posted on-line today.

If I Had A Food Safety Magic Wand …..

If I had a food safety Magic Wand,
Everybody would have a safe supply of drinking water;
Everyone would have sanitary toilet facilities;
And every household would have a clean area to prepare food.
If I had a food safety Magic Wand.

If I had a food safety Magic Wand,
Every country would publicize food safety recalls;
Every country would encourage safe food production techniques;
And every country would enforce food safety laws.
If I had a food safety Magic Wand.

If I had a food safety Magic Wand,
FDA would promptly disclose all food inspection reports (Form 483);
USDA would promptly disclose all food inspection reports;
And FDA and USDA would enable on-line consumer food safety complaints;
If I had a food safety Magic Wand.

If I had a food safety Magic Wand,
All local health agencies would make restaurant inspection results available on-line;
All schools would teach food safety as part of the core curriculum;
And all chefs would practice and promote safe food handling.
If I had a food safety Magic Wand.

But I haven’t a food safety Magic Wand,
So we’ll just have to muddle through –

With no access to clean water for millions around the world,
With no sanitary toilets in much of Asia and Africa,
With fragmentary information,
With fragmentary enforcement,
With inadequate education,
And with celebrity chef misinformation.

Until someone invents a Food Safety Magic Wand.