January 04, 2011

Gillibrand On Signing Of Food Safety Bill: Giant Step Forward To Protect Consumers, But More Work Needed To Ensure Safety Of Nation's Meat Supply

Food Safety Bill Includes Gillibrand Provision to Notify Consumers About FDA Recalls

Washington, DC – As President Obama today signs the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law, marking the first major, comprehensive update to America’s food safety laws in over a century, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who authored a portion of the bill that will provide better notification for consumers of FDA recalls, applauded the bill’s signing, but called for additional protections for America’s meat supply in the upcoming Farm Bill. Senator Gillibrand's Consumer Recall Notification Act was included in the legislation the President will sign today.

“Today, we’ve taken an important first step to bringing our food safety laws into the 21st century,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Among many other important improvements, this legislation will provide better notification for grocery store shoppers when a product is recalled, and I commend President Obama for signing this bill into law. But we have more work to do. We can’t afford to wait for another deadly E. coli outbreak before we take action to protect our meat supply. There are a number of commonsense steps we can take that would prevent disease and save lives across the country.”

 

Senator Gillibrand’s Consumer Recall Notification Act
Senator Gillibrand’s legislation requires the FDA to provide a one-page summary of the recall information to grocery stores and require grocery stores to either display that one-page summary in a prominent location, including at the register or on the shelf, or provide customers with a notification through the use of loyalty card information or coupon technology within 24 hours of the FDA releasing the information.  This will proactively give customers information so that they can check their pantry or freezer and dispose of recalled products.

Failure to distribute information will result in a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  For minor offenses, fines are less than $1000 or less than 1 year in prison.  For major offenses, including the intent to defraud or mislead, the penalty is a fine up to $10,000 and prison for up to 3 years. 

Under Senator Gillibrand’s provision, the FDA must also improve communication of all Class I recalls between the CDC, states and local health departments by distributing advisories to all state and local health departments along with frontline health professionals, such as emergency departments and pediatricians.  The information distributed will include information about symptoms to look out for and test for in order to diagnose food-borne illness.

More Work to Do

Just last week, a California producer recalled 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef products contaminated with E. coli. New Gillibrand legislation would reduce the risk of E. coli ending up in the hamburgers and other food we eat. The E. coli Eradication Act would for the first time mandate E. coli inspections of all ground beef. The measure would require all plants that produce the cuts and trimmings that make ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again after all the components are ground together. If ground beef is found to be contaminated, the bill requires the company to properly dispose of the contaminated batch, or cook the meat to a temperature that destroys the E. coli. 

While E. coli 0157:H7 is by far the most common strain in American beef, non-0157 STECs are increasingly found in beef imported from other countries, but is never checked for since current law only requires imported ground beef to be checked for E. coli 0157:H7.

Senator Gillibrand also introduced legislation that adds the six confirmed dangerous strains of E. coli to the list of adulterants, which requires meat companies to test for and discard any batches containing these toxic strains of E. coli, and gives the USDA the authority to find and regulate more toxic strains in the future. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an estimated 48 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 128,000 are hospitalized with food-borne illness, and 3,000 die from food-related disease.  While this legislation updates the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety regulation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) need significant overhauled. Across New York State, approximately 5 million people are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year. In 2010, 2.3 million pounds of meat were recalled in the United States for contamination.

During a 2008 industry-wide sampling of all ground beef produced, the USDA found that 0.32 percent of ground beef was contaminated with E. coli – nearly 1 in every 300 samples.  Ground beef is especially vulnerable to E. coli because its source material is not from a single cut of meat; rather, it is a compilation of trimmings from many parts, including fat that lies near the surface of possibly contaminated hide. While some grinders that process ground beef voluntarily test the meat before and after grinding, there is currently no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli.