Food recalls are in the news- find out who oversees food safety in the U.S.

It’s on the news frequently: manufacturers recalling raw or processed foods because it’s believed they’ve made people sick. Who issues the recalls? And who oversees the safety of our nation’s food?

You may have heard information about food recalls on television or read about them in your local paper and wondered exactly what a “recall” is. Organic chicken, ground beef, raw chicken, peanuts, even ice cream – these are a few of the items recently recalled by manufacturers.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011. It is said to be the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in the United States in more than 70 years. The purpose of the act is to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to incidents of food contamination, to preventing them.

The enacting of the FSMA means that the FDA now, for the first time, has mandatory recall authority for all food products. The FDA expects that it will not need to invoke this authority frequently, saying that the food industry largely honors FDA requests for voluntary recalls.

Recalls are divided into three classes: Class I, Class II and Class III. Class I recalls involve a dangerous product that is reasonably likely to cause serious health problems or even death. An example of this might be rotisserie chicken products recalled for salmonella or smoked salmon and cod recalled because of a botulism risk.

Class II recalls involve products that may cause temporary or reversible health consequences. Class III recalls involve products that are not likely to cause adverse health problems, but violate FDA labeling or manufacturing laws, such as lack of English labeling in a retail food.

According to Michigan State University Extension food safety experts, sometimes it is the manufacturer or the distributor of the potentially unsafe food item that identifies the problem and voluntarily reports it to the FDA. Other times it may be one of the federal regulatory agencies that discover an issue during sample testing or routine inspections. Other federal agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or even local health departments, can report a potentially dangerous situation.

Most foodborne illnesses do not become apparent until hours, days or sometimes even weeks, after consuming the food, so it is often difficult to determine which food has contributed to an illness, and where it was processed.

If you believe you have eaten a food causing illness you can:

For more information on identifying whether food in your home is subject to a recall or what to do if you feel you have a recalled food item, visit the MSU Extension website to find an expert near you or call 1-888-MSUE-4-MI (1-888-678-3464).

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