Under the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would have the authority to recall contaminated meat, poultry and some egg products. This bill would also allow the Secretary of Agriculture to issue a mandatory food recall. This new legislation has been proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Because of the USDA’s inability to initiate recalls, “it becomes a struggle to inform consumers the food they bought is not safe to eat.” Gillibrand said on a call with reporters.

Right now, all the USDA can do is make recommendations that a voluntary recall should be announced by the manufacturer, importer, distributor and/or retailer. These companies can refuse to issue a recall although FSIS does require such action when a contaminant has been detected. All contaminants are not created equally, though. Salmonella, for example, is not considered a contaminant in the way that E. coli O157:H7 is.

Also included in Gillibrand’s proposal are new requirements regarding how retail stores notify customers of food recalls. Stores would have to prominently display a USDA-issued Recall Summary at the point of sale, or on the dedicated shelf where the food item was stored. Retailers would also be required to reach out to customers by taking advantage of existing loyalty and reward card programs, making phone calls or sending emails to get the news out.

“Because of the inefficiencies in our national food safety system today, when we eat, we are very often putting ourselves at great risk of becoming seriously ill, regardless of how thoroughly we cook our food. Lunch should not be a high-risk activity.” said Gillibrand.

Gillibrand is also a co-sponsor of the recently proposed Safe Food Act of 2015--a bill that proposes all food labeling, inspections and related enforcement be managed by a single agency.