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Supermarkets Do Uneven Job Notifying Consumers of Recalls

CSPI Calls on FDA to Finalize Regulations for In-store Notification of Recalled Food

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When food is recalled, most supermarkets will post notices in store locations where consumers will likely see them.  But at least one major supermarket, Giant Eagle (not to be confused with Giant Food) does not, according to a survey of 32 of the nation’s leading grocers conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Some chains, including Whole Foods and Aldi, wouldn’t disclose their policy to CSPI.  And the Food and Drug Administration has dragged its feet implementing an in-store recall notification program required by the 2010 food safety reform law, according to the group.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, among other things, required the Food and Drug Administration, using information from producers, to prepare recall notices that grocery chains larger than 15 stores would post in conspicuous locations for 14 days.  More than five years after the law’s passage, and more than three years after the statutory deadline for implementation, the system is not yet in place.  Though most chains that answered CSPI’s question do post notices, their placement varied, with some posted at entrances, some at cash registers, and some where the recalled product had been shelved.

In a letter to FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, CSPI wrote that it is concerned by the agency’s lack of progress on this particular provision of the FSMA.

“There’s no fool-proof approach, but in-store notification of recalled foods should be one of several overlapping systems aimed at helping Americans reduce their risk of eating contaminated food,” said CSPI senior food safety attorney David W. Plunkett.  “Supermarkets are clearly doing an uneven job, and the FDA is taking far too long to implement the notification system that the law requires.”

CSPI’s report, Building a Food Recall System that Really Protects Consumers, also surveyed supermarkets about whether they use the data collected by their bonus card or other programs to directly notify consumers who have purchased recalled foods.  Walmart, Kroger, and Costco, the biggest three grocers, all do notify consumers directly.  Some stores like Publix, H-E-B, and Whole Foods don’t have loyalty programs that collect data.  Of the chains that do collect data, Food Lion, Cub Foods, and Winn-Dixie, didn’t disclose whether they use it to notify consumers about recalls.

CSPI recommends that consumers keep an eye out for recall notices in supermarkets and safely dispose of or return recalled products.  Consumers should also ensure that grocery stores with membership cards or customer loyalty programs have their accurate contact information.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).