USDA List Would Pinpoint Locations of Recalled Meat

By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Put this on your grocery list.

For the first time, the Department of Agriculture is proposing that consumers be told which supermarkets and retail outlets have sold meat or poultry that is subject to a recall because of safety concerns.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service publicizes recalls by issuing a press release, describing the food being recalled and any identifying codes, the name of the company that produced it, a contact person and, more recently, a picture of the product.

Consumer groups have been pushing regulators to include the names of buyers, grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants.

In March, the FSIS issued a proposal that would notify the public of the retailers the agency can trace forward from the food processors or distributors. The agency has suggested that it might take some time to get all the names but is hoping the industry will cooperate in providing the information. The proposal does not set a timeframe for collecting and posting store names and locations on the agency's Web site.

The comment period ends June 11, and industry groups already are expressing their opposition to the change, saying competitors would use the publicity to offer substitute products.

Some of the impetus behind the proposal came from Richard Raymond , who was the top health official in Nebraska before he became USDA undersecretary of food safety, joining his old boss, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns , who was governor of Nebraska.

"We have a really good recall system right now," Raymond said in an interview. "I see this as a supplement to an already good system. This is the last step to get recalled product back."

Now, a request for a recall can be initiated by a government inspector, the company or as the result of an outbreak of illness. But the actual recall of a product is voluntary. The USDA has only the authority to seize food or shut down a plant.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have the authority to order a mandatory recall and fine companies that do not cooperate. Attempts to pass legislation in Congress to mandate food safety recalls have failed.

There were 53 meat and poultry recalls last year covering 6.5 million pounds of products. This was down from 2002, when there were 113 recalls affecting 59 million pounds of beef and poultry.

Any information the agency has about the customers of the recalling company is considered proprietary.

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