Kellogg's issues cereal recall

Aug 02, 2010

Erik Olson, deputy director of the Food Portfolio at Pew Health Group, will be online Monday, Aug. 2, at 11 am. ET to discuss the Kellogg cereal product recall.

Hi, Erik Olson here with the food portfolio at the Pew Health Group. Looking forward to your questions.

What Kellogg cereals are affected? Are my kids at risk if they've eaten them lately?

See the Post front page story and Food and Drug Administration website for a full list. Includes some Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, and Honey Smacks for some dates of production, certainly not all of them.

U.S. regulators lack data on health risks of most chemicals

Chemicals seem to be the problem, and not necessarily in the food but in the packaging, right?

That's right. In this case, apparently the chemicals were in the packaging--the bags inside the cereal boxes. This of course is only one way contaminants can get into the food.

In a Post poll on the Web site it says that 76 percent of responders do not have faith in the FDA to keep the food supply safe. Comment?

Check out the polls on food safety at What these show is that the public--including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, all support strengthening and overhauling our food safety laws. Until that happens, FDA lacks the tools and resources to fully protect our food supply.

If people have eaten the cereals in the recall, what should they do?

Check the FDA website and the Kellogg's website to be sure that the cereal you or your family have eaten was actually recalled. If so, you may want to contact both Kellogg's and the FDA (see their website) if you have any concerns, or had any health problems you think could be linked to the cereal.


Do you think its a conflict of interest when the company that put the chemical into the food gets to look at its own data and tell us that the chemicals it used aren't a problem?

I think FDA absolutely needs to play a key role in overseeing the safety o f the food supply. This is why pending legislation (S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act) that has been sitting in the Senate for a year since the House passed it, would give FDA new enforcement and oversight tools that it presently lacks, due to an outdated law. We are urging the Senate to move this bill as soon as possible.

Seems we've seen a lot of these kinds of problems over the past several years. How can we fix the system so these types of things are prevented?

One thing we need to do is give FDA an up-to-date law. The current law was originally signed by President Teddy Roosevelt, and most recently substantially updated in 1938--over 70 years ago. That's why a new food safety law like the bipartisan bill S. 510, pending in the Senate, is needed. It would make the food safety system more preventative, instead of reacting after contamination is discovered.

Seems like this is a reminder of the recent "BPA in plastics are everywhere" message that so few folks seemed to hear. Although pricier plasticware and reusable bottles are labeled BPA-free, most of the inexpensive items seem to be as unregulated as the cereal-box liners. With so much to remember (glass better than cans for tomato products, milk in plastic vs. paper), someone should create a smartphone app (and a printed flash card) that we can take to the shopping aisles! Are there any one-source lists we can use now?

There are some apps that begin to address some of these issues, but a key problem is that there generally are not good publicly-available and up-to-date data on the presence and possible health effects many of the contaminants or ingredients in many foods, and in some of the packaging used for foods.

Kellogg's said they hired a team to inspect and that it determined that no harmful material was in the products. What gives?

 It would be good to see FDA check up on this and to independently confirm what was in the food and what its health effects might be.

What's the news on BHT? Manufacturers use it in packaging to "preserve freshness." How does BHT/BHA do this? I thought BHT was carcinogenic, so I've avoided all cereals that use it in the packaging, which is most major brands.

I cannot answer that question specifically, but you should know that the Pew Health Group has recently decided to move forward with a program to evaluate the science on the possible health effects of many food additives.

What's the role of the EPA in all of this?

FDA has the regulatory authority over about 80 percent of the food supply (USDA regulates meat and poultry, FDA most other foods). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to regulate toxic chemicals used in all products; there is some overlapping jurisdiction, obviously, when it comes to chemicals used to package foods, for example. EPA's law for regulating chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is quite out of date and not very effective, according to the Government Accountability Office (  and others, so Senator Lautenberg and Representatives Rush and Waxman has proposed to overhaul TSCA so toxic chemicals are better tested and regulated.

One idea that has been proposed by health/environmental advocates is that companies should prove that the chemicals they use are safe - as opposed to having to show that they do no harm - before they can be used. What do you think of this approach?

This approach has merit--it should be the company's burden to prove that the chemicals they use are safe. The  government should check the data independently and confirm that this is correct.

Do you think this could happen in other cereal brands, i.e., Post cereals, generic grocery story brands, etc.?

There are food recalls announced virtually every week for a variety of reasons, ranging from contaminants in the packaging to bacterial contamination. So I would never say that it was impossible for another product to be contaminated, though I am not aware of any evidence that other cereals have the same problem.

What is Kellogg's doing because of this besides the recall? Will something be done immediately to the future production of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks?

I would suggest that you contact both Kellogg's and FDA (see websites earlier in the chat). It is important to make sure that these problems do not recur.

This concludes our discussion with Erik Olson.  Thank you for joining.

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Erik Olson
Erik Olson is deputy director of the Food Portfolio at Pew Health Group.
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