New York, NY – After a national salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands of people and led to one of the largest egg recalls in U.S. history, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, stood at Morton Williams Supermarket in Manhattan along with food safety advocates to announce new Gillibrand legislation that would require grocery stores to notify shoppers about food recalls. Just last week, 8,000 gallons of milk sold in New York and three other states were also recalled. Under this law, which is expected to pass this Fall, New York City’s supermarkets, neighborhood corner stores and food retailers must place notices in their stores on the shelves or at cash registers or use automated coupon technology to alert individual customers who have purchased tainted food so they can immediately dispose of it.
“The current system to notify consumers is completely antiquated. In America, in 2010, it is unconscionable that we don’t have an effective way to let consumers know about recalls,” Senator Gillibrand said. “As a mother of two young children, I know how frustrating it can be to get the most up to date information on which brand names are being recalled and what dates are affected. Letting shoppers know about recalls will prevent tainted food from reaching dinner tables and actually save lives.”
“As a New Yorker, a mother, and a victim of food borne illness, I commend Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to remedy the FDA recall reporting system,” said Pam Berger from Safe Tables Our Priority, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing foodborne illnesses and death. “As it is now, consumers do not have easy access to basic and potentially life-saving information about the food we eat. The system as it is now is out of date and ineffective, and the solution Senator Gillibrand is proposing is a common-sense and direct approach. We have the right to know if the food we are bringing home to our families could sicken them, and we shouldn’t have to have a background in research to access this information.”
“This important legislation will immediately provide consumers and health professionals with information on recalled products to help keep their families and children safe,” Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, Professor of Pediatrics and Chairman of the Department of Community & Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine said. “Children and seniors are particularly affected by food borne illnesses. Senator Gillibrand’s bill will lead to more diseases prevented and more lives saved.”
Between May and July, a growing nationwide salmonella outbreak resulted from tainted eggs, with nearly 2,000 reported illnesses. Last month, more than half a billion eggs that were distributed in 14 states have been recalled by two Iowa producers. While there were no New York cases linked to this outbreak, thousands of egg-transmitted salmonella in New York are reported each year.
Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would have required grocery stores and food distribution centers across 14 states which sold the salmonella-tainted eggs to either list the specific recalled brands in their stores or notify customers who already purchased the tainted eggs using their membership info – all within 24 hours after the FDA’s official announcement. This process would alert unaware consumers, provide clarity on exactly which egg brands are unsafe, and prevent potential food-borne illnesses from taking place.
Beyond the egg recall, Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would require consumer notification of all recalled products under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and as well as the stores that they were sold in. Stores that fail to notify customers would be penalized.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 5 million people are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year across New York State, with an estimate of nearly 2.1 million stricken in New York City. In October 2009, Senator Gillibrand’s office released data which showed that over 900 food products had been recalled from New York City shelves for various violations since 2005 – including products such as cheese spread, caramel spread, preserved olives, dried prunes and more.
While the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have made some progress improving food safety regulations, there has not been a significant overhaul to the nation’s food safety laws in more than a century.
Senator Gillibrand’s Consumer Recall Notification Act would:
Stores which sell food products that are under FDA’s most severe type of recall (Class 1) would be required to do one of the following within 24 hours of the recall announcement: place a notice at the register, place a notice on the shelf where the food was sold, place a notice in another prominent location, such as the front of the store or at a kiosk at the entrance, or use membership cards to call customers after they have purchased a recalled product or provide shoppers with coupon info on the recalled product.
Stores that fail to notify customers of Class I recalls would be hit with penalties ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.
The FDA would also be required to publish an easy-to-access list of contaminated products on the internet for both stores and consumers.
Distribute Critical Information to Health Workers
To improve communication between States and local health departments when there is a Class I recall, the FDA would be required to distribute advisories to States, local health departments and frontline health professionals, such as emergency departments and pediatricians. The information distributed would include timely info on symptoms to look out for and test for in order to diagnose food-borne illness and save lives.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on Senator Gillibrand’s legislation—which is part of a larger Senate food safety amendment offered by the Chairman and Ranking Member and has strong bipartisan support—later this month.