Monday, November 24, 2008

New USDA Directive Details Retail Reporting of Recalled Foods; No Retail Reports For Class II Recalls

For many years, neither the USDA nor slaughterhouses and processors were required to disclose the names of retailers who have received potentially contaminated meat. USDA has disclosed the brand and type of meat but, by failing to name retailers, it left consumers in the dark as to whether their community might be at risk. In August of 2008, the USDA began naming retail consignees of recalled products.

A new FSIS directive details the mechanics of recalls and conditions of retail disclosure, but the new rule only applies to Class I recalls.

The USDA scales recalls from I to III; Class I involves a health hazard situation in which there is reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems, or death; Class II involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food; Class III involves a situation in which the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

Most meat recalls are Class I (more than 85%), but consumers have a right — and a need — to know about Class II and III recalls as well. For example, USDA classified an April 2007 recall of more than 5,000 pounds of salami as a Class II recall but also called the health risk "high."

And, this year’s record-breaking recall of 143 million pounds of beef from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company was also deemed a Class II recall. The meat was recalled because "the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection" and non-ambulatory, or downer, cows were allowed into the food supply. Downer cows are at greater risk for carrying mad cow disease. Under the current regulatory framework, the USDA would not post retail consignees of similarly adulterated meat.

The new rule closes the reporting gap regarding Class I recalls, but it still leaves consumers uninformed if an incident similar to the Hallmark/Westland recall occurred in the future.

The rule also does not mandate that the food processor immediately disclose an actual and complete list of its retail consignees for public posting, and it leave the burden of compliance on on the producer to contact consignee, and those who received the recalled product further down the distribution chain. The complete new FSIS directive (dated November 17, 2008) can be found at:

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