Published reports cite data suggesting that the FDA is having difficulty meeting its audit goals for food-safety inspections done contractually by states on its behalf. The FDA is ultimately responsible for the safety of about 80% of the U.S. food supply. It tends to focus on high risk foods, and contracts with approximately 40 states for inspections of other foods. Nationally, about half of all inspections are performed by states, according to the GAO.
The FDA audits state inspections done on its behalf, with a goal of auditing 7% of the state efforts so as to ensure quality inspections. Recently released data suggests the agency did not meet this audit target in at least 17 states, with five states receiving no audits in the last reporting period. The quality of state inspections came under intense scrutiny this year during the salmonella outbreak allegedly traced to Peanut Corp. of America in Georgia. And, as readers of MassTortDefense realize, the end result can involve mass tort litigation. Experts hypothesize that so many state and federal resources are devoted to major food-borne illness outbreaks, audits may get postponed.
President Obama’s selection to head the FDA, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, has pledged to make protecting the country’s food supply a major priority. And the new proposed federal budget calls for a $260-million increase for the FDA’s food safety program. Part of the new funding would go to rebuild the ranks of inspectors; the number of FDA food inspectors has dropped since 2003. Hamburg has noted that the globalization of food production (about 20% of our food supply comes from abroad), the emergence of new and complex food technologies, and the risk of adulteration or deliberate terror attacks on our food supplies all raise major concerns. She proposes a shift from chasing outbreaks after they have occurred to trying to prevent them in the first place.