Recalls of imported foods are flawed government audit reports

So that’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a big deal about their new import monitoring program yesterday: because today, government auditors say FDA is often sloppy and inattentive in their efforts to ensure that contaminated foods from abroad are withdrawn promptly and completely from the nation’s food supply.

Gardiner Harris reports in this morning’s New York Times that in an audit of 17 recalls, investigators found FDA often failed to follow its own rules in removing dangerous imported foods from the market, according to Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The products included cantaloupes from Honduras contaminated with salmonella, frozen mussel meat from New Zealand infected with listeria and frozen fish from Korea that contained the bacterium that causes botulism.

In one case, more than three months passed from the time the F.D.A. became aware of the contamination to the time a recall was initiated. In another case, the lag was nearly a month. In 13 of the 17 cases, the companies that supplied the tainted goods failed to provide accurate or complete information to their customers so that the products could be withdrawn completely, the audit found.

Live animal imports into America: agencies need better collaboration to reduce the risk of animal-related diseases

The United States legally imported more than 1 billion live animals from 2005 through 2008. With increased trade and travel, zoonotic diseases (transmitted between animals and humans) and animal diseases can emerge anywhere and spread rapidly.

That’s a lot of animals.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded the statutory and regulatory framework for live animal imports has gaps that could allow the introduction of diseases into the United States. Specifically:

(1) The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has regulations to prevent the importation of live animals that may pose a previously identified disease risk to humans for some diseases, but gaps in its regulations may allow animals presenting other zoonotic disease risks to enter the United States. CDC has solicited comments in advance of a rulemaking to better prevent the importation of animals that pose zoonotic disease risks.

(2) The Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has regulations to prevent imports of nonnative live animals that could become invasive.

GAO recommends that the Secretaries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and the Interior develop a strategy to address barriers to agency collaboration that may allow potentially risky imported animals into the United States and jointly determine data needs to effectively oversee imported animals.

Canada lacks oversight of imported foods

An internal Canadian Food Inspection Agency audit, dated July and quietly posted on the agency’s website this week, found that the safety of imported foods in Canada is at risk because of multiple "deficiencies" with the agency’s oversight system.

Sarah Schmidt of Postmedia News reports the audit also found that the agency never full implemented its 2002 Import Control Policy and that it leaves it up to foreign countries to inspect exports bound for Canada, even though there are no foreign country equivalence controls in place for food commodity programs, other than meat, fish and eggs.

These foods include maple (it’s a staple of the Canadian diet), honey, fresh fruits and vegetables, processed products and non-federally registered products. Non-registered products include beverages, infant formula, confectionary, cereals, spices and seasonings and baked products.

Opposition parties jumped on the findings, accusing the Tory government during question period of failing to protect the health of Canadians while the volume of imported foods has risen to more than $21.8 billion annually.

"Today we learned that the government has no strategy to ensure that health hazards are not entering Canada,” said NDP health critic Megan Leslie.

Canada has no strategy to ensure health hazards are controlled in homegrown foods.

Agriculture Minister Gerry listeria-is-funny Ritz was not in the House of Commons to respond to the attacks.

Who throws a shoe? Who smuggles cheese? Two arrests made in contaminated food case

Who throws a shoe?

Who tries to smuggle cheese?

In the first Austin Powers movie, largely a spoof on James Bond flicks, the bad guy enforcer throws a shoe in an attempt to decapitate the hero, Austin ‘Danger’ Powers.

Two people from Honduras, were arrested by special agents after previously trying to bring contaminated cheese into the U.S. via Miami.

According to the allegations of the complaint, Francisca Josefina Lopez and Jorge Alexis Ochoa Lopez imported four shipments of cheese from Nicaragua between December 2009 and March 2010, with a declared value of more than $322,000.

According to testing conducted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration”s (FDA) district laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, three of the four shipments were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, and the fourth shipment violated standards applicable to phosphatase, indicating the cheese

According to the complaint, the defendants operated from a company known as The Lacteos Factory, at 1414 Northwest 23rd Street in Miami. All four shipments, totaling in excess of 170,000 pounds, were refused entry into the commerce of the United States, and were subsequently ordered destroyed or re-exported.

On April 1, 2010, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) inspected a cargo container at the Port of Miami, which had been returned to the seaport from Lacteos, with documents to reflect the contents were the first refused shipment, being re-exported. CBP Inspectors discovered that the top layer of cartons on each pallet contained small bricks of cheese, as labeled, but the bulk of the cargo contained in the lower tiers of boxes contained only buckets of waste water. As a result, the majority of the four-hundred eleven cartons of cheese from the entry were missing

Subsequently, a search warrant was executed at the Lacteos Factory, which revealed that the three other shipments of the cheese product had been sold to over thirty customers, despite still being on hold. It was also determined that one customer conducted independent testing of the cheese, found it to be contaminated with S. aureus and returned the product. Despite that, the cheese was repackaged and sold to other customers.