WASHINGTON — Beginning Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will adopt a new policy of disclosing the names of supermarkets and other food retailing outlets that have received contaminated meat and poultry products during any future Class I recalls, according to an announcement by Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.
Prior to this announcement, it was USDA protocol to publish only the name of the processor recalling the meat or poultry, the reason for the recall, a description of the recalled product, any identifying product codes, the recall classification, and contact information for the company involved and for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Any public announcements by affected retailers were voluntary.
When the new policy goes into effect next month, FSIS will begin posting on its website a list of retail stores that have received products subject to Class I recalls, generally within three to 10 business days of the recall announcement. Class I recalls involve “a reasonable probability of serious health consequences or death for those with weakened immune systems.”
Dustin Sanders, produce buyer for Associated Food Stores, said he believes the rule has potential positives.
“If they can pinpoint the recall to certain shipments and retailers that may have received them, it will build confidence from the public,” Sanders told SN. “This will keep recalls isolated and not [cast] such a widespread blanket over the whole market.”
The American Meat Institute released a statement expressing opposition, saying these new lists could confuse or mislead consumers.
“If a consumer sees an early version of a list of businesses that received recalled product, that consumer may conclude that he could not have purchased the product,” Mark Dopp, AMI's senior vice president, regulatory affairs and general counsel, said in a release.
“Three days later, the consumer's local grocery store may appear on the list, but the consumer is unlikely to check the list again and may consume recalled products.”
By contrast, Consumers Union, the consumer advocacy group and publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, expressed support, and argued that the new rule should also apply to Class II recalls.
“This store and supermarket information needs to be disclosed, because it is impossible for consumers to know if they have bought recalled meat otherwise,” said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. “Generally, recalls are announced as ground beef, bearing lot numbers XYZ, distributed by company A in states B, C and D. The consumer never sees those lot numbers — the beef is generally repackaged in the store. However, if the consumer knows that my supermarket, in my neighborhood, received recalled beef, then the consumer will know to discard or return any beef that is in the refrigerator.”
Halloran disagreed with AMI's assessment. “If consumers check once and don't see the name of their local store on the USDA website, will they come back and check again? Some will and some won't,” Halloran said. “But if it was up there in the first batch, that's more information than they had before, which was zero.”