May 13, 2015

New Investigation Finds Failing American Food Safety System Causing Millions Of Illness, Gillibrand Introduces New Legislation To Final Establish Mandatory Recall Of Contaminated Meat & Poultry

Disturbing Frontline Report Documents Failure of Food Safety Agencies to Stop Spread of Deadly Pathogens in Chicken & Meat USDA Does Not Have Authority to Recall Contaminated Food, Leaving Consumers Vulnerable to Severe Illnesses

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of a devastating investigation aired last night by PBS’ Frontline of the American food safety system and the millions of preventable food-borne illnesses contracted each year, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act to finally provide the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry. The Frontline report documents the spread of dangerous contaminants through poultry processors and how regulators are failing to prevent the illnesses they cause. An estimated 3 million New Yorkers annually become sick from food they consume, and approximately one in six Americans annual become sick from foodborne disease.

“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”

“It is time to treat all bacteria and viruses that sicken U.S. consumers the same,” said Bill Marler, one of the nation’s leading foodborne illness attorney's. “They should be banned from both imports and from food produced in the U.S.  Banning these bugs from our food supply would save both consumers and the food industry billions of dollars in medical and recall costs.”

The Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act would improve consumer awareness in the event of a high priority food safety recall of meat, poultry and egg products by:

  • Giving USDA mandatory recall authority.
  • Encouraging retailers’ use of frequent shopper/shopper reward cards that monitor purchases to notify customers who may have purchased recalled products.
  • Creating a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed at points of sale in retail outlets that sold a recalled product or on the store shelf where a product was sold.

Gillibrand’s legislation will give the Secretary of Agriculture mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry, and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction. Under the proposed bill, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would be granted authority to require companies to recall contaminated food and notify all related persons to cease all activities related to the recalled food. FSIS would have the authority to notify consumers and state and local health officials of an ongoing recall.

In the event of food borne illness or the detection of an adulterated or unsafe product, Gillibrand’s proposal would allow the USDA to recommend a voluntary recall of a product to a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or retailer. If the request is refused, the Secretary can issue a mandatory recall and notify affected processors, packers, retail outlets, and the public. USDA will issue a Recall Summary Notice to all retail outlets that sold a recalled product. This Notice would be displayed at all cash registers or at the shelf location where the recalled product was presented for sale. Those retail outlets that use customer card systems to track customer purchases and demographics could call or email each customer that purchased a recalled food product or make available to each customer a targeted coupon with information about the recalled product. Penalties can be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall.

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, nearly a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by Salmonella and another Consumer Reports study found that one third of all chicken breast with Salmonella carry a drug resistant strain of the disease.