Lax Food Inspections
A new government report says there are significant weaknesses in the Food and Drug Administration’s food inspection program, which oversees 80 percent of the U.S. food supply.
More than half of food manufacturing facilities have gone without an inspection for five years and the FDA inspects less than a quarter of food facilities every year.
The report comes as more than 300,000 Americans are hospitalized annually and about 5,000 die from consuming contaminated food and drink.
Another 76 million are sickened with foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The auditor report comes from the Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson.
The Peanut Corporation of America plant is a prime example of a facility that had gone for years without an inspection before a salmonella outbreak reached 44 states, sickened 650 people, and led to eight deaths.
The lack of inspectors and inspections contributed to other high-profile contaminated food outbreaks of peppers, spinach, and lettuce costing the U.S. $152 billion in health-related expenses annually, reports Reuters.
The report finds:
- The FDA inspected fewer than half of the 51,229 food manufacturing facilities it regulates
- Regulatory actions fell from 614 in 2004 to 283 in 2008
- FDA shortages in personnel meant that 25 percent of the worst facilities avoided any regulatory action
- 36 percent of facilities did not receive any follow up to make sure the violations were corrected.
Part of the problem is access. Often food producing facilities refuse to give the FDA access to their food records, which impedes the agency’s ability to investigate problems.
Food Safety Bill
A Senate committee unanimously passed a food safety bill last November. It current is awaiting approval in the Senate. A similar bill passed in the House in July.
The auditor report was requested by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee who urges that a food safety bill be passed in the Senate quickly. It would step up inspections for all food facilities and increase the enforcement power of the FDA to be able to force recalls rather than work cooperatively with the food manufcturer.
"This new report shows what we have feared for too long: that that our domestic food facilities are not being adequately inspected and FDA needs additional authorities to keep the food on our tables safe," said Harkin in a statement issues yesterday. "This is unacceptable in our modern society and an important reminder that we must provide FDA with the needed tools to properly inspect food facilities and effectively react to problems in order to ensure the safety of the food American families eat. Quite simply, picking up food at the grocery store should not be a health risk."
Food safety laws have not changed significantly since 1938, reports the Washington Post. #