Romaine lettuce scare wasn't a recall, it was a 'public alert' (The FDA's process, explained)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Did you know the recent romaine lettuce scare wasn't a recall?

In this case it was a "public alert" because, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there's not a common supplier -- just a region of the country, Yuma, Ariz., where the lettuce was grown.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46 people have been hospitalized from 22 states because they were infected with E. coli, but it couldn't find which supplier was producing the tainted lettuce.

But what is the process behind an alert or recall?

How it works:

The FDA is a regulatory agency that helps in the process of notifying the public about recalls of products that could make you sick or are mislabeled.

According to a site the FDA uses to announce these recalls, there have been 20 products recalled in just the past two weeks.

The first thing you need to know is that in most, if not all, cases it's not the FDA recalling a product, it's the company or manufacture.

The FDA even goes as far to highlight that fact at the top of each recall notice in a red box.

How does the FDA find out about a problem:

There are four ways in which the FDA discovers there could be a potential problem with a product.

  • A company discovers a problem and contacts FDA.
  • FDA inspects a manufacturing facility and determines the potential for a recall.
  • FDA receives reports of health problems through various reporting systems.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contacts FDA.

After a problem is discovered the recall can be put into one of three classifications according to the FDA website:

  • Class I: Dangerous or defective products that predictably could cause serious health problems or death. Examples include: food found to contain botulinum toxin, food with undeclared allergens, a label mix-up on a lifesaving drug, or a defective artificial heart valve.
  • Class II: Products that might cause a temporary health problem, or pose only a slight threat of a serious nature. Example: a drug that is under-strength but that is not used to treat life-threatening situations.
  • Class III: Products that are unlikely to cause any adverse health reaction, but that violate FDA labeling or manufacturing laws. Examples include: a minor container defect and lack of English labeling in a retail food.

When a company decides they need to recall the product the FDA supplies them with a step by step guide on how to do it so that it's done effectively and efficiently to limit the risk to the public.

Because each situation is different, there's not a general time line on how quickly it can be done.

Some products can be stopped before the leave the manufacture, some are a little more difficult because the product has already made it to the store and in some cases sold.

The FDA also has a program called Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) to investigate and track illnesses.

"The goal of the CORE Network is to build upon the best of what we currently do across FDA in incident response, and not only to streamline, but to strengthen FDA's efforts to prevent, detect, investigate, respond to, and learn from incidents and outbreaks," the CORE website explained.

How do you protect your family?

The media is very good about getting notice out to the public about alerts and recalls but there's a quicker way to make sure you find out immediately about food or drug product recalls.

The FDA provides a service that will notify you of an alert or recall with an email.

You can sign up for the free service HERE.

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