Acting on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Marshals seized on May 7, 2009, more than $1.5 million worth of food products, including herbs and botanicals, stored under filthy conditions at the American Mercantile Corporation of Memphis, Tenn.
In March, FDA investigators found extensive rodent and insect infestation throughout the company’s warehouse, and subsequently, the company failed to correct these problems. Acting on a warrant issued by the United Stated District Court in Memphis, U.S. Marshals seized all FDA-regulated food products exposed to rodent and insect contamination at the facility, because the items were held under insanitary conditions.
We may be seeing related recalls from dietary supplements and herbal tea brands, though the FDA has no reports of illness associated with consumption of the products. American Mercantile stores and processes food ingredients, which are then sold to and used in the dietary supplement and herbal tea industries. The seized articles include food products, such as sarsaparilla, spearmint leaves, cornstarch, sweet orange peels powder, licorice powder, sassafras, and salt. The company's site indicates the supplier offers certified organic ingredients as well as kosher-certified products.
The get-tough action comes on the heels of an extensive Salmonella outbreak in 2008-2009 related to unsanitary conditions at peanut processing facilities owned by the Peanut Corporation of America. Attorney-at-Law indicates that outbreak caused about 600 illnesses, nine deaths and one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, involving some 3,200 products.
Of the American Mercantile seizure, Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, says, “FDA will not tolerate a company’s failure to adequately control and prevent filth in its facility. The FDA is prepared to use whatever legal means are necessary and appropriate to keep potentially contaminated products out of the marketplace.”
And expect the FDA to continue strengthening its food safety protection efforts, particularly in the area of prevention. The Obama administration plans to revamp and bolster the FDA's capabilities, which have weakened signficantly in recent years due to federal budget constraints even while the food supply chain has become increasingly global. Part of the President Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget includes $3.2 billion for the FDA, a 19 percent increase over the current FDA fiscal year budget. The FY 2010 request, which covers the period of Oct. 1, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2010, includes increases of $295.2 million in budget authority and $215.4 million in industry user fees. The FDA budget proposes two major initiatives for FY 2010: Protecting America’s Food Supply and Safer Medical Products. The Protecting America's Food Supply initiative, with a $259.3 million budget, invests in priorities that strengthen the safety and security of the supply chain for foods. Supply chain safety and security relies on the principle of risk-based prevention with verification, and the FDA initiative will focus on both foreign and domestic sources of ingredients, components, and finished products at all points in the supply chain, including their eventual consumer use.
Update May 17, 2009: NutraIngredients reports that "the U.S. dietary supplement industry is facing a massive media onslaught" bringing attention to the regulatory weaknesses of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).