A government review of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found weaknesses in the agency's recall process. Over the course of nearly three years, several food products that were deemed unsafe for public consumption remained in stores for months.
On Dec. 26, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services released the findings of its investigation into the FDA.
The probe had examined 30 of the roughly 1,500 voluntary recalls that the FDA managed between October 2012 and May 2015. The study found that it took an average 57 days for the companies to yank their tainted products from store shelves.
The probe's lead author, assistant regional inspector general George Nedder of Boston, said that his investigation uncovered huge liabilities for public health.
"Every day that a recall is not initiated, every single day that goes by, a person could potentially get seriously ill or die from eating a product," Nedder told CBS News.
Even more shocking is that 23 of the 30 recalls involved class 1 hazards, or foods that could cause irreversible damage when consumed. In some cases, Nedder explained, they can cause death.
In one case, the company Oasis Brands waited 81 days before fully complying with a recall for cheese products tainted with Listeria. The products were linked to the death of an infant and the miscarriages of two pregnant women. Oasis owner Christian Rivas was sentenced to 15 months in prison for the way in which he had handled the recall, according to USA Today.
In 2011, former President Barack Obama signed The Food Safety Modernization Act into law. The regulation reform enabled the FDA to force companies to recall dangerous products if they did not voluntarily do so. Between 2012 and 2015, the agency only issued two mandatory recalls.
Senior Adviser Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the advocacy group Public Citizen asserted that the FDA had not properly utilized the powers that the Obama administration had given to them.
"The kinds of things that the inspector general has found are things that might be excusable in the first couple of years," Wolfe told The New York Times. "But not several years into it."
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement in response to Nedder's investigation.
"I take these obligations very seriously," Gottlieb said, according to NPR. "Making sure the FDA has effective recall practices in place, and that we take immediate action to address unsafe foods, are high priorities of mine."
The FDA oversees roughly 80 percent of the U.S. food supply. FDA director of enforcement and import operations Douglas Stearns noted that the agency was heavily dependent on voluntary disclosures made by food firms.
"Sometimes we do not get all the information we need, and sometimes the information provided is not accurate," Stearns said.