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Calls for improvements in food safety

February 3, 2009 |  1:41 pm

Obamas1 Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, is happy to hear President Obama's call for a food safety review, coming on the heels of a nationwide recall of hundreds of items that contain peanut products.

It might help that Sasha Obama is among the gazillions of kids who eat peanut butter sandwiches. (For the record, major brands of jarred peanut butter are not part of the recall.)

The president said Monday that he wants to review the Food and Drug Administration, in light of the recent recalls. “I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to,” Obama said.

His 7-year-old daughter eats peanut butter sandwiches, "probably three times a week. And you know, I don’t want to have to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence to having her lunch,” Obama said on the "Today" show.

The FDA declined to respond.

Consumers Union called on Congress to require the FDA to make annual inspections of factories such as the one in Blakely, Ga., that the federal government has linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people. 

The plant was inspected last summer by Georgia inspectors under contract to the federal government. The FDA inspected the plant in January, after the outbreak had occurred, and issued a report citing problems there. But until then, it had not inspected the plant since 2001.

"The FDA is supposed to be a watchdog for consumers, and for too long, this agency has been coming up short,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. 

Halloran cited inadequate funding, and Consumers Union is among several groups that have called for an overhaul of the FDA.

Obama is scheduled to appoint an FDA commissioner soon; the agency now has an acting chief.

The FDA and other agencies have said that the outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium illnesses was traced to peanut butter and other peanut products processed by the Peanut Corp. of America at its Blakely plant. The plant ships products that other companies then use as ingredients in cookies, crackers, ice cream and other foods, including dog biscuits.

The company has issued a voluntary recall of products from the plant dating to Jan. 1, 2007. The FDA has created a searchable database for recalled products.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times