Shoddy work ethic in our food safety system
Can you imagine a food processing company that is given a Certificate of Achievement despite having dry-roasted rodents and salmonella-tainted products at their facilities? It‚ one of the crazy things about the world we live in. Nine deaths and almost 700 illnesses have been counted since the peanut scandal began a few months ago. All because the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) decided to take a few shortcuts and withhold the fact that they had discovered salmonella in some of their production plants. Responsibility for this does not just fall upon PCA, however. The Food & Drug Administration‚ lax oversight, coupled with the sporadic and ineffective use of state inspectors and third party auditors, allowed for this situation to unfold.
Third party audits of food production companies have become a common , and sloppy , way for the food safety system to conduct its operations. The case of PCA is no exception. PCA hired the American Institute of Baking International (AIB), the largest private food-inspection firm in the country, to inspect their facilities. However, not only did AIB notify PCA in advance about dates of upcoming inspections and tell them to get ready, but they then gave them excellent reviews that did not at all match the shoddy conditions state inspectors found this January. AIB even revealed, in a recent statement, that they did not test for food contamination, which seems nonsensical, considering recent events.
Nestle USA sent in its own inspectors to the South Georgia and Texas and found the plant conditions so poor that Nestle chose to buy its supplies elsewhere. Other companies like Kellogg were not so lucky, as they chose to rely on AIB‚ audits only to lose millions of dollars from the recall.
There is something good that can be drawn from this whole incident, which is that Congress has finally taken it upon themselves to overhaul the Food & Drug Administration, along with the food safety system as a whole. We only wish this had happened sooner. Food & Water Watch supports a bill by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that will help fix many of these problems.
The bill, known as HR 875, would fix FDA‚ main flaw by splitting it into two separate agencies (one for food safety, one for drugs and medical devices). HR 875 is one of several on the House floor that is hoping to address the food safety issue, but of these this bill clearly holds the most promise. Considering the variety of food safety debacles we have seen over the past year, melamine in Chinese imports, salmonella-tainted jalapeño peppers, and listeria-tainted cheese to name a few, we cannot afford to put off these reforms any longer.
- Sofía Baliño