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Quick food info a happy accident

Submitted by on Monday, 10 November 2008 No Comment

It’s a great example of getting food recall information to consumers in time to help. Too bad it appears to have been an accident.

Sometime Friday, Nestle USA figured out that two product codes of Strawberry Quik powder could be contaminated with aluminum.

Saturday in Massachusetts, a cash register at Wal-Mart stopped a mommy blogger from buying potentially poisonous powder. No one seemed to know why, but when the sales associate tried to scan the canister a message came back telling her not to sell it.

This morning, the Food and Drug Administration sent a press release and an email alert on the recall. Think the RSS feed would have been quicker? Nope. The alert didn’t land there until today either.

The result: A three-day lag in alerting consumers to a potential problem, unless the consumer just happened to try to buy Strawberry Quik over the weekend.

It might be a new low for the Foot-Dragging Administration.

I get that no one likes to work weekends. And I understand that, toothless lion lacking any power to order a recall that the FDA is, there’s no compelling reason to have a bunch of government workers sitting around in case contamination breaks out.

But there has to be a better way than one that leads to a three-day lag between problems being discovered and the public at large being alerted.

We have the technology to let a scanner in New England know about a problem in California. We can’t let the rest of the country know, though, because of an intervening weekend? Ridiculous.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which handles recalls for meat, poultry and processed egg products, does much better, sending out a press release Saturday on listeria contamination in Zeigler hot dogs.

But, then, the USDA is radical enough to want to actually give consumers information, including stores where contaminated food was sold. The FDA wants to keep those picky details confidential.

In many ways, both agencies have come a long way. Just look at the tomato scare that morphed into a pepper threat. Advances in science let FDA officials, with the help of state authorities and the Centers for Disease Control, track the source.

For once, the FDA sent out a news release on a Saturday. See? They can do it when they want to.

Maybe the difference in the bureaucratic mind is tons of tomatoes vs. pounds of Nestle Quick. As a food-allergic mother of a food-allergic son who became sick recently due to what I suspect was microscopic amounts unlabeled peanut in a cereal bar, I can tell you that there’s no such thing as a small food alert.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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