The Food and Drug Administration is seeking comments on how retailers can notify their shoppers about food safety risks.

The agency said it is seeking input on how to create an effective way for retailers to alert consumers about food safety risks in foods they may have purchased, including recalls.

According to the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA may require suppliers to submit to the agency “consumer-oriented” information regarding items that could be a food safety risk. Fresh produce — raw fruits and vegetables — are exempted from the requirements because they are often in bulk displays and not readily identified by the time consumers take them home.

The 2011 food safety law directs FDA to use that “consumer-oriented” information from suppliers to create one-page summaries that would be posted on FDA’s website to help notify consumers. Grocery stores with 15 or more locations would be would be required to prominently display the one-page FDA summary within 24 hours of FDA’s web posting. The stores would be required to display the information for 14 days, according to the FDA.

The FDA said it was looking for input on several issues, including:

 

  • what information should be required;
  • the format in which the information should be presented;
  • what types of retailers FDA should consider to be subject to the notification;
  • how grocery stores should be made aware that the information has been published on FDA’s website;
  • what constitutes prominent display or sharing of the information by a grocery store;
  • the effect on grocery stores from posting the information;
  • if the FDA should require industry to submit consumer-oriented information, even if items will not be sold at the retail level.

 

One hole in the FDA’s planned regulation is that it doesn’t apply to foodservice, said Michael McCartney, managing principal with QLM Consulting, Sausalito, Calif. The regulation doesn’t require foodservice operators or restaurants to notify consumers.

“Hopefully that will get reviewed and corrected,” he said.

While raw fruits and vegetables are exempted from the regulation, McCartney said the 2011 food safety law said that retailers should post notices in a conspicuous place, such as a bulletin board, in their stores to notify consumers of all recalls.

“Retail establishments have resisted that, so I don’t know what ultimately is going to be decided,” he said.

McCartney said that social media may well be the most effective way to inform consumers about food safety issues or recalls of specific foods.

“If your are trying to be responsible, you better act fast because if you don’t act fast enough, social media will catch up with you real fast and then you have a fire fight on your hands,” he said.