Statement of CSPI deputy director of regulatory affairs Sarah Sorscher

Today, the Food and Drug Administration published a draft guidance explaining how the agency plans to publish the names of retailers involved in food recalls. This information, long advocated for by CSPI, is necessary for consumers to understand whether they have purchased food that may be dangerous. Until now, the FDA has only released retailer information rarely and without a clear policy.

This an important step that will provide information consumers need to protect themselves from harm. Importantly, the FDA recognizes that customer lists and other information the agency considers to be “confidential commercial information” can be published if needed to help consumers identify recalled food. The guidance states that that the agency intends to consistently publish retailer information where food that may be eaten by consumers cannot be identified as part of the recall by its packaging (e.g. for unpackaged produce). The FDA may also disclose the names of retailers in certain geographic regions or particular online distributors where a packaged food is involved in an outbreak of foodborne illness, if this information can help consumers to protect their health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has long made retailer names available for all recalls involving meat and poultry that pose a health hazard, but the FDA has traditionally resisted releasing this information in all but the rarest cases. Last summer, FDA denied a request for retailer information on a specific outbreak as confidential commercial information. We hope this new guidance by the agency represents a significant change in policy moving forward and will lead to the publication of retailer names in all cases where this information will be helpful to consumers.

While the new policy is a step forward, it is also essential that the FDA devote the needed resources to obtain retailer information swiftly from industry during high-risk recalls, so consumers can receive notice in time to protect themselves from foodborne illness.