Friday, June 26, 2009

How Effective Are Voluntary Recalls For Contaminated Foods? Nestle Cookie Dough Products Are STILL On Sale...

The Nestlé Toll House cookie dough products, in pic, were in the refrigerator case yesterday, June 25, at your intrepid blogger's local market. Yep, that's South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford weeping on the front page of the day's paper...just to give historic context. Nestlé's cookie dough products were "voluntarily recalled" on June 19, due to contamination with E coli, a pathogen that can cause kidney failure and death. To date, illnesses have been tracked in 28 states.

Are these Nestlé products included in the recall? FDA thinks so. They even have a picture of the product on their website, as a handy-dandy reference for those who can't read. Did the store employees who were potentially harboring deadly pathogens in the cookie dough know anything about the recall? No. This is one of the many the problem with voluntary recalls. They simply don't work. Here's FDA's disclaimer, lest you might want to sue them because you get ill from a "recalled" product:

FDA posts press releases and other notices of recalls and market withdrawals from the firms involved as a service to consumers, the media, and other interested parties. FDA does not endorse either the product or the company.

Harrowing: A RECALL IS A PRESS RELEASE. Nothing more. FDA might as well have said "Nestlé cookies are tasty" for all the good this "recall" is doing. Jane Zhang in Wall Street Journal takes a hard look at how Nestlé has been able to run circles around FDA:

The Nestlé USA plant at the center of a federal probe into an E. coli outbreak involving cookie dough refused to give inspectors access to pest-control records, environmental-testing programs and other information, according to newly released inspection reports covering the past five years.

In a September 2006 visit, for example, managers at the Danville, Va., plant refused to allow a Food and Drug Administration inspector to review consumer complaints or inspect its program designed to prevent food contamination. The inspector found dirty equipment and "three live ant-like insects" on a ledge but nothing severe enough to give the plant a failing grade. Companies aren't required to show those records to FDA inspectors and Nestlé's practice isn't out of line with the rest of the food industry, FDA and industry officials said.

Obviously this speaks to the grave need for legislative reform to actually get enacted, as well as for the need for criminal and civil penalties for food poisoners...Meantime, Seattle attorney Bill Marler is already suing the heck out of Nestlé, and he's representing clients who are in hospitals on life-support machines. And Mr. Marler could be as vigilantly monitoring our meat supply, if only Secretary Vilsack would appoint him to lead USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

*Related: Read Food Safety is Getting a "D" For Dangerous in the Obama Era, here. Pix by Ob Fo, with IPhone.