What’s on Your Plate?

What’s at stake: A food product recall is the last line of defense for keeping contaminated food off store shelves and out of our kitchens. But there’s a hitch: Not all recalls are created equal.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t always alert consumers to the store names and locations of where recalled products were sold. The agency has defended these inconsistencies by pointing to an obscure and broad interpretation of what qualifies as “confidential commercial information” under the Freedom of Information Act.

For example, when the FDA announced a recall in May of frozen raw tuna cubes imported from Indonesia that tested positive for hepatitis A, the action included retailer and location specifics. But when the agency announced a recall last year of strawberries imported from Egypt that also tested positive for hepatitis A, it declined to offer those same details.

There is a small window to get vaccinated against hepatitis A after exposure, so sharing those locations could have helped mitigate the multistate outbreak traced to the berries.

How CR has your back: CR believes that specific retailer details should be released in the wake of every recall and is asking the FDA to address this inconsistency. Along with 10 other consumer and public health organizations, CR sent a letter to the agency urging a policy change. We think consumers should be armed with as much information as possible to protect themselves and their families.

What you can do: Go to recalls.gov/food.html to make sure you didn’t pick up dangerous items during your recent grocery shopping trips.

A Path to Safer Roadways

What’s at stake: CR continues to speak up in the escalating debate over the safety of self-driving vehicles. Some new cars already let the driver hand over partial control to the vehicle in certain situations (such as adaptive cruise control), and automakers are pushing to bring fully autonomous rides to the road in the near future.

How CR has your back: As we reported in this column back in October, our advocates have testified before Congress about how self-driving cars could dramatically reduce the number of crashes, because the vast majority of collisions are caused by human driver error. However, CR believes we need sensible, binding standards for ensuring that the rollout of these cars doesn’t happen without clear safety evidence.

Recently, the Department of Transportation announced a weakening of its industry guidelines. The government says doing so will help accelerate development and spur innovation. But we strongly disagree and think that the DOT should be putting tougher safeguards in place, not rolling back the current voluntary guidelines.

Coincidentally, this disappointing move by the DOT happened on the very same day as an announcement that Tesla’s Autopilot system played a major role in a 2016 fatal crash.

Congress is working on new legislation after the House approved a bill that included some safety measures recommended by CR, but we believe it still has too many loopholes. CR is back on Capitol Hill advocating for improvements.

What you can do: Contact your members of Congress at house.gov and senate.gov to urge them to approve real safety standards for self-driving cars.

A New Level of Security

What’s at stake: The breach at Equifax compromised sensitive data for nearly half of all Americans.

How CR has your back: For years, CR has called on the government to crack down on breaches. Our latest petition to Congress has attracted more than 200,000 signatures. We are pressing Congress for tougher standards, including civil penalties.

We believe that Equifax’s help for impacted consumers was anemic and inadequate. In a letter to the company, we stated that it has an obligation to do whatever it can to make consumers whole and laid out a list of actions Equifax should take, such as establishing a fund to compensate identity theft victims. At press time, we were still waiting for a reply.

What you can do: Sign our data security petition, at ConsumersUnion.org/Equifax.

A Victory for Consumers

As a result of a joint investigation by ProPublica and CR, California regulators required Nationwide and USAA to adjust their auto insurance rates. While reporting our July issue article “A World Apart,” we discovered that on average USAA charged 18 percent more and Nationwide 14 percent more in poor minority neighborhoods than in whiter ones with similar accident costs. To read our story, go to CR.org/insurance1217.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.