By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Federal health officials failed to force a recall of peanut butter and almond products for three months after advanced DNA testing confirmed salmonella contamination, government investigators reported Thursday.
Despite new legal powers to compel recalls and sophisticated technology to fingerprint pathogens, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed some food-safety investigations to drag on, placing consumers in jeopardy of death or serious illness, according to the inspector general’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services.
In an unusual urgent warning called an “early alert,” the internal watchdog said the FDA needs to pay “immediate attention” to the problem and follow clear procedures to get manufacturers to promptly recall tainted foods.
“Months and weeks when peoples’ lives are on the line?” asked lead investigator George Nedder. “It needs to be done faster.”
Responding to the findings, the FDA’s top food safety official said the cases singled out by investigators were “outliers,” a “very selective sample” in which recalls did not proceed quickly and efficiently in a matter of days.
Nonetheless, Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff said the FDA has set up a group of food safety officials to review cases on a weekly basis that don’t seem to be moving. “That way we will be able to take action much more quickly in circumstances where there seems to be some reluctance at the firm,” he said.
Food safety has long been a weakness for the FDA, an agency thinly stretched to oversee about…