Local News

Food Vendor Database Proposed for Recalls

Posted August 16, 2007 6:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 16, 2007 5:51 p.m. EDT

— Second District Congressman Bob Etheridge said Thursday that he would propose a national database of supermarkets, convenience stores and other food vendors so information about food recalls can be disseminated more quickly and effectively.

"That database is absolutely critical," Etheridge said, following a meeting with state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler about food safety.

The meeting came in the wake of a nationwide recall of Castleberry canned meats, which might have contained a toxin that causes botulism. Despite the recall notice, state inspectors found cans of the food remaining on shelves at about half of the stores they checked.

"It confused both the public and the press," Troxler said of the recall notice, which listed dozens of products and brands.

But he said his inspectors were even more concerned that they didn't know where to look for the tainted food.

"I don't think there is a database, per se, that would say to us this is where all the businesses are in North Carolina that would sell a particular product," he said.

In February, for example, ConAgra Foods recalled all of its peanut butter after the government linked it to a salmonella outbreak. Last fall, bagged spinach was recalled nationwide after being linked to E.coli illnesses. State inspectors also tested imported fish in recent months amid safety concerns.

Troxler said similar confusion could occur during any future food recall, and he plans to look at developing a state database similar to the federal one Etheridge is pursuing.

State agriculture officials also said the Castleberry recall taught them a better way to communicate. Getting recall information to county health departments is more effective than relying on people to check national releases, they said, noting that people listen more to people they know.

Ed Weems, part-owner of Capital City Grocery, said he does monitor recall notices.

"We check the recalls daily," Weems said, adding that his store didn't have any of the Castleberry food. "You always want to be alert, but I feel pretty confident."

Food safety is vital to the state's economy, officials said, noting that agriculture and agribusiness is a $66 billion industry in North Carolina.