GAO: FDA needs to update communication strategies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to revamp its communication strategies in regard to food recalls and outbreaks, according to a federal oversight agency.

The 61 page report, released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), states the FDA has yet to fully implement previous recommendations from GAO, including:

  • Creating a policy to “more comprehensively” address communication with the public during emerging events.
  • Creating a policy with the USDA on advising the public about recalls.
  • Creating plans recommended by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine to fix communication coordination issues.

“As a result of not implementing them, FDA may be missing opportunities to more comprehensively address its communications challenges,” a summary of the report stated.

It’s a challenging issue for FDA; when an outbreak is recognized, quick notification to the public can help stop the spread of illness. However, unwarranted warnings can lead to serious consequences for food producers whose products were mistakenly named as the source of the outbreak, according to a letter to Congress from the GAO.

To hammer home the point, the report cites the 2008 Salmonella outbreak that mistakenly was attributed to tomatoes. Officials later found the source of the illness was jalapeno and serrano peppers, not tomatoes. As a result, tomato growers and transporters lost an estimated $145 million.

Among its new recommendations, GAO found FDA should implement previous recommendations in regard to food recalls and outbreaks, and create guidance or regulations to make its food recall process more clear.

The report is the result of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), which directed GAO to draft reports on FDA’s recall authority, which is expanded under FSMA.

To read highlights of the report, click here.

For the full report, click here.


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