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FDA resources for stocking legal supplements

It's every natural retailer's nightmare: Discovering that a supplement sitting on the shelf is adulterated. That's because whether a retailer knows the supplement is adulterated or not, "if someone purchases an adulterated supplement and has a reaction from it, if you're the person who sold that supplement you're ultimately liable," said Don McLemore, director of the New Hope Standards Department.

This reminds me of the 1992 hot coffee lawsuit brought against McDonald's. Who's responsible: seller or consumer? In the coffee case, it was 80 percent McD's and 20 percent fault of the woman drinking the coffee. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't see supplement adulteration that way. Instead, it seems to be 100 percent the fault of everyone involved in the making and selling of the supplement (and no fault to the consumer).

The FDA has discovered some 300 tainted supplements in recent years and vowed last December to crack down on the manufacture and sale of such products. As a result, many resources are available to ensure safety of supplements for consumers. In addition to buying from reputable companies and relying on instincts, consider these tools a checklist for vetting supplements before they reach the shelf.

  • Search the FDA's Tainted Supplements database.
    This database lists supplements that FDA tested and has proven to be adulterated. "They've made a lot of improvements in it and it's easy to access," said McLemore. "It's a good database for the retailers to go through."
  • Pay particular attention to body building, weight loss and sexual enhancement supplements.
    The FDA has flagged these three categories as primer offenders of supplements that contain drugs. Chances are, if the product touts "works in 24 hours" or "lose weight in a week," it's probably adulterated, said McLemore.

    FDA warns consumers to watch out for body building products marketed as containing steroids or steroid-like substances. For weight loss products, avoid: sibutramine (a controlled substance), rimonabant (a drug not approved for marketing in the United States), phenytoin (an anti-seizure medication), phenolphthalein (a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer causing agent) and bumetanide (a diuretic). And for sexual enhancement products, watch for drugs or analogs of Viagra (sildenafil citrate), Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil HCl).
  • Subscribe to the FDA's RSS feed.
    Receive the latest tainted products alerts as they're published by FDA.

See also "5 ways to ensure you're stocking legal products" for more ideas.

Is this enough for spotting adulteration? What other methods do you use to keep your consumers safe?

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