Food Recall Resource

Dangerous Interpretation of Authority Raises Food Safety Concerns

In September, 2019, Bad Food Recall told you about a food safety warning about tuna steaks sold at Kroger stores.  The yellowfin tuna was possibly contaminated with a bacteria that causes scombroid poisoning.  While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did warn consumers about the risk of food poisoning, a recall was never initiated.  Now, many are concerned about food safety and how interpreting authority could impact consumers.

Lack of Recall Raises Food Safety Concerns

Following the FDA’s warning to consumers about scombroid poisoning, the agency requested that the company initiate a recall.  The FDA recognizes that potentially dangerous products could still be available to consumers.  In December, 2019, the FDA updated the investigation stating that there were more illnesses.  The agency reported that voluntary recalls by businesses purchasing the tuna did not remove the risk.  Still, the FDA did not order a mandatory recall.

This is causing concern for many Americans.  Situations like this have even gained the attention of Congress.  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) authorizes the FDA to order a mandatory recall when a company does not initiate one voluntarily.  Mandatory recall orders are designed to protect the public from products with the potential to cause “serious adverse health consequences or death.”

So why hasn’t the FDA ordered a recall? According to the agency,

“because scombrotoxin fish poisoning causes temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences this incident did not meet the threshold for the use of FDA’s mandatory recall authority.”

This interpretation of the law is quite dangerous.  Furthermore, it could set a dangerous precedent where companies feel they can disregard the FDA’s request for a recall.  Companies may view this decision as a way of denying or challenging recall requests on the basis that the risks posed by their products is not serious enough.

The FSMA has been in effect for nine years.  Since then, the FDA has only used their mandatory recall authority three times.  Situations like the tuna represent an overly-restrictive interpretation of the law which could put consumers and food safety guidelines at risk.

Outbreak of Scombrotoxin Poisoning

Scombrotoxin is a bacteria that certain fish excrete when they begin to spoil.  The bacteria releases as muscles and protein break down.  High levels of histamine release, and in response, by-products and toxins leach into the meat.  Scombrotoxins cannot be destroyed by curing, cooking, smoking or freezing the meat.

This outbreak of scombroid poisoning affected people in 11 states.  There are at least 50 illness reports.  The symptoms most commonly reported with scombroid poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Faintness

People who have scombroid poisoning often experience a progression of symptoms, such as:

  • Facial flushing
  • Sweating
  • Burning or peppery taste in the mouth and throat
  • Dizziness and headache
  • Nausea

These symptoms may progress to include edema (swelling), hives and facial rash.  Furthermore, severe cases of infection may cause additional, more concerning symptoms.  The FDA notes that serious illness may result, including,

“severe cases may blur vision, and cause respiratory stress and swelling of the tongue.”

Many patients with scombroid poisoning require hospitalization and intravenous fluids, oxygen and antihistamine treatment.  There are also reports of scombroid poisoning causing cardiac complications and low blood pressure.

What to do if You Suspect Scombroid Poisoning

If you develop symptoms of scombroid poisoning, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.  Explain your concerns and discuss the foods you recently ate.  If you have recently eaten fish, make sure you detail the type of fish, where you ate it (at home or a restaurant) and when your symptoms started.

If possible, obtain samples of the fish you ate.  Wrap samples carefully so they don’t deteriorate.  Ask the retailer or restaurant where the fish came from.  To verify the sample and test for Scombrotoxin, contact your local health department or food safety agency.  You can also contact the FDA for more information about scombroid poisoning and how to file a report.

Contact a Food Safety Attorney

If you or someone you love is suffering from scombroid poisoning, you may also find it helpful to contact a food safety attorney.  At Bad Food Recall, our legal professionals help consumers just like you.  We can certainly help you understand and protect your legal rights.  When companies put consumers at risk for illness, we work to hold them accountable.

To find out more about food safety and your legal rights, give us a call at 1-877-534-5750.  You can also request more information by completing our online contact form.



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