The latest in bizarre recall news: insect parts in infant formula

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You deserve safe, healthy food. Help us label GMOs and get antibiotics out of food animals.

By Consumers Union on Friday, September 24th, 2010

Some food recalls have sadly become so commonplace that we barely bat an eye when we hear the latest news report.  Salmonella in our eggs? No surprise, these days.  Beef recalled for E. coli?  Guess I’ll go check my freezer (again).

But beetle parts and larvae in infant formula – now that’s a new one.

Similac’s announcement last week recalling about 5 million cans of powdered infant formula for that very reason certainly turned some heads (and freaked out some new parents).  On the upside, the likeliest worst case scenario is that a baby would experience some gastrointestinal distress (unlike major illness or even death that can result from pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella or Listeria).   On the downside though – feeding bug parts to sensitive newborn babies is just pretty gross.

Infant formula is regulated a little bit differently than eggs, produce, and processed food.  But we just had a massive egg recall, and this infant formula recall is ironically happening in the shadow of the ongoing battle over the food safety bill in Washington, which still hasn’t passed the Senate.   The big-picture goal of this legislation is admirable, as well as long overdue:  to switch our food production system from one that merely reacts to problems to one that proactively prevents outbreaks and recalls from happening in the first place.

This is a critical transition, given that ‘reaction’ isn’t working out so well for us right now:  millions of people get sick every year from foodborne illness, it can take months to detect an outbreak and trace it to the right farm or factory (as in the recent egg recall), and companies aren’t always ready to handle the kind of rapid response that consumers expect in a recall scenario (as evidenced by Similac’s crashed website and phone lines this week).

To start moving us from reaction to prevention, the food safety bill would:

  • increase inspections of food processing facilities, especially those deemed high risk, to catch problems at the source
  • require companies to figure out likely sources of contamination in their production process, and have a plan in place to prevent it from happening
  • explore new methods of traceablity to be able to track the source of tainted food products more quickly

Then, if all else fails, the bill would give the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of unsafe food products, a power it currently lacks.

Despite broad bipartisan support, as well as backing by major industry and consumer groups, the bill did not move forward last week due to the objections of Senator Coburn from Oklahoma.  The Senate has precious little time to act before they adjourn next week for the election season.   Take action for food safety now:  call 1 (800) 944-6762 to be connected directly to your Senators, and tell them to get the job done.

If they don’t, expect a forecast for more Salmonella, E. coli, and beetle parts in the near future.

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