Gillibrand bill would give USDA mandatory recall power over contaminated meat

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON,  May 13, 2015 - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation today that would provide USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry, citing what her office called a “devastating investigation” by PBS' Frontline of the American food safety system.

According to Gillibrand's office, the Tuesday night's Frontline report “documented the spread of dangerous contaminants through poultry processors and how regulators are failing to prevent the illnesses they cause.” One in six Americans are sickened each year by foodborne disease, including about 3 million people in New York state alone, it said in a news release.

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“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” Gillibrand said in the release. “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.”

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Gillibrand's 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 one-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.

The legislation would give the Secretary of Agriculture mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry, and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction. The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would be granted authority to require companies to recall contaminated food. FSIS would also have the authority to notify consumers and state and local health officials of an ongoing recall.

If a foodborne illness is detected or an unsafe product is found, Gillibrand's proposal would allow USDA to recommend a voluntary recall. If a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or retailer refuses, the secretary could then issue a mandatory recall. Penalties could be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall. In virtually all cases to date, companies have agreed to a recall when requested by FSIS.

According to USDA estimates, nearly a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by Salmonella. Cooking chicken properly will kill the bacteria.

When asked for comment on Gillibrand's bill, a spokeswoman said FSIS does not comment on pending legislation.

 

(This story was updated at 8:20 p.m.)

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