Claire Suddath’s Time article ‘How Do You Recall Tainted Food’ argues for granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandatory recall power. She begins her piece with several positive examples of voluntary recalls (such as Campbell’s recent recall of SpaghettiOs) but then notes that many recalls are not issued until after people become sick. Once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links an outbreak to a food product, the FDA inspects farms, plants, and packaging centers to try to find the source. If they find a potential source, they ask manufacturers to issue a recall, and the manufacturers usually obey. If the manufacturers refuse, the FDA can seize the remaining products, but cannot issue a recall on its own.
FDA consumer-safety officer Cecilia Wolyniak discusses the Peanut Butter Corporation of America’s (PCA) 2009 salmonella outbreak, illustrating the effects of the FDA’s limited recall power. In response to the outbreak, which killed nine people and sickened around 22,000, the FDA requested the recall of over 1,800 peanut products. Every company except for Westco Fruit and Nuts Inc. voluntarily complied.
In her discussion of Westco, Suddath unfairly calls its trail mix “tainted.” “They are asking me to commit suicide based on presumption. They have shown no proof. We have begged them…They have no proof that anyone got sick from eating whole redskin peanuts roasted in oil,” said Westco owner Moradi regarding the recall. According to the Scientific American, roasting peanuts kills salmonella, but only if done following the contamination. In order to be sure, Moradi had his peanuts tested in an FDA approved lab. The results came back negative, showing no contamination. In spite of this, the FDA seized all of Westco’s unsold trail mix.
Suddath has it exactly wrong: Moradi’s refusal to recall demonstrates a market success, not a market failure. As Campbell Director of Corporate Communications Anthony Sanzio said, “No one wants to do a recall of course, but when you think your product might be unsafe, ultimately you just have to do it.” Moradi didn’t think his product was unsafe, and therefore did not issue a recall. According to him, his freedom to refuse to issue a recall ultimately saved his small company from bankruptcy.
Congress should respect the economy liberty of companies like Westco, and should refuse to extend the government’s police power to include mandatory recall.