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Food recall danger? Report finds unsafe food can sit on shelves for months

Posted: 4:25 PM, Dec 26, 2017
Updated: 2017-12-26 17:25:16-05

When you grocery shop you rarely question whether the item you pick up is okay to eat. But a report released Tuesday found in some cases, it's taking months to get unsafe products off the shelves because the recall process is so slow.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General office analyzed 30 food recalls from 2012 to 2015 and found it took the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, an average of 57 days to start a recall once it found out something was wrong.

In one case, it took nearly three months for the FDA to recall a brand of cheese after it learned it was contaminated with listeria.  And it took five months for a brand of nut butter to be recalled after the FDA found out it was contaminated with salmonella, even though consumers began getting sick years earlier.

We asked Emily Rusch, executive director of CALPIRG, why it takes so long.

"Every step of the process is just taking far too long," Rusch says. "From the FDA being able to get enough information from the company to be able to analyze the potential harm, to the companies then responding and actually voluntarily recalling food off of store shelves."

The FDA established a team to help speed up the process in 2016, but the report says the FDA also has to do more, like improve their electronic tracking system and process for monitoring recalls. They also want the FDA to release the names of stores that sell recalled food items.

But in the meantime, what can you do? Rusch says don't forget the basics like refrigerating your food and cooking it well.

"Making sure that you wash your food before you eat it and wash all of the equipment and utensils that you use to cook and prepare your food," Rusch says. "But at the end of the day we are largely talking about invisible bacteria that none of us can see."

The FDA acknowledges it still has more work to do.