Dangerous food potentially stays on shelves too long because of ineffective recalls, a congressional watchdog agency warns. Less than half of the recalled food studied was actually returned or destroyed, the Government Accountability Office noted in its new study. Moreover, federal officials can’t issue mandatory recall orders for food – a power other agencies have over dangerous toys or medical devices.

"Consumers may be vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalization, and even death, in part, because of weaknesses in (federal) programs for monitoring companies’ recalls of unsafe food," the GAO said.

Even so, some of the proposed solutions might cause gagging among California’s politically attuned food processors. In particular, the GAO is urging Congress to grant the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration the authority to flat-out order food recalls.

The Agriculture Department termed some of the GAO’s findings as "alarmist," and questioned whether mandatory recalls would actually lead to longer delays because of appeals. Overall, though, the agency said most problems identified would be addressed by new procedural changes instituted in May.

In the soon-to-expire 108th Congress, lawmakers introduced several bills to grant mandatory recall authority over food; one bill, for instance, would specifically grant recall authority over food used in school lunch programs.