FDA Recalls...Fact vs. Fiction

The recall of a defective or possibly harmful product often is highly publicized in newspapers and on news broadcasts. Recent headlines in major newspapers: "FDA Orders Peanut Butter Recall", and "FDA Orders 6,500 Cases of Red-Dyed Mints Recalled", are examples of a misunderstanding by the media regarding the FDA' s role in product recall. These headlines imply that the FDA can "order" a recall. The FDA has no authority under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to order a recall. The FDA does have the authority to ask a company to recall a particular product.

The FDA has jurisdiction over food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices and other products and serves as a monitor over product recalls. In most cases recalls are done voluntarily by the manufacturer or the distributor of the product. In some cases, a company will discover that one of its products is defective and will recall it. In others cases, the FDA will notify a company that one of its products is defective and will suggest or request a recall. Usually, the company will comply; if it does not, the FDA can seek a court order authorizing the Federal Government to seize the product.

The FDA has guidelines for companies to follow in recalling defective products. These guidelines explain that the FDA expects these firms to take full responsibility for product recalls, including follow-up checks to assure that recalls are successful. Under the guidelines, companies are expected to notify the FDA when recalls are started, to make progress reports to the FDA on recalls, and to undertake recalls when asked to do so by the FDA.

The guidelines specify for manufacturers and distributors to develop contingency plans for product recalls that can be put into effect when needed. The FDA's role under these guidelines is to monitor company recalls and assess the adequacy of a firm's action. After a recall is completed, the FDA makes sure that the product is destroyed or suitably reconditioned and investigates why the product was defective.