A proposed federal rule would require publishing the names of grocers that sold potentially harmful food during recalls.
Recalls are costly and time consuming and could potentially put the manufacturer of the food on the hook for liability if consumers end up eating a contaminated product. Publishing the names of grocers where the food was distributed could speed up the recall.
The rule change was published by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a unit of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"We believe that publishing a list of retail establishments that have received products subject to recall will help consumers more easily determine if they purchased recalled product," stated Richard Raymond, the under secretary for food safety at the USDA.
In 2005, there were 53 recalls involving meat and poultry products, compared with 113 in 2002. When a recall is conducted, FSIS posts a recall press release on its Web site to help consumers identify the product.
The agency also distributes the press release to national wire services and newspapers, television and radio stations in those states where the product has been distributed as well as electronically to mailing lists maintained by FSIS.
Federal, state and local health and agricultural officials are also alerted to the fact that a recall is taking place. The recall release includes the name of the recalling establishment, the reason for the recall, a description of the food being recalled, any identifying codes, the recall classification and the appropriate contact persons for FSIS and the company involved.
During the recall, FSIS receives lists of consignees from the recalling firm. FSIS contacts consignees at all levels of distribution to ensure that notification is taking place and that products subject to recall are being removed from commerce and properly disposed of or returned to the recalling firm.
If a product has been distributed to the retail level, under the proposed rule, FSIS will post a complete list of retail outlets on its Web site once that list has been verified for accuracy.
Beginning in 2002, FSIS entered into a series of memoranda of understanding to allow states to participate in the recall verification process. While consignee identities and distribution lists have in the past been considered confidential business information, FSIS said it has concluded that it has the authority to release the names of retail consignees of recalled meat and poultry products.
The deadline for public comments on the proposed rule is 8 May.