The findings of a new government report indicate that the FDA is unable to keep up with food facility inspections, placing Americans at risk of food poisoning.
The food inspection report (pdf), issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this month, found that the number of food processing plants and other facilities inspected by FDA is declining. The report also found that more than half of all food facilities currently in operation have gone five years or more without an inspection.
“Our report found significant weaknesses in FDA’s domestic inspections program,” the OIG report states. “We found that there was a significant decline in the number of food facility inspections as well as a decline in the number of violations identified by FDA inspectors. Further, when violations were identified, FDA did not routinely take swift and effective action to ensure that these violations were remedied.”
The report says that the findings indicate that more needs to be done to protect the public from food poisoning contamination and that FDA needs to be provided with better tools to prevent food poisoning outbreaks.
Specifically, the OIG report found that between 2004 and 2008, FDA inspected an average of 24 percent of food facilities. The report also found that the number of facilities inspected per year declined during that time period, even as the total number of food processing plants under FDA’s jurisdiction increased. The OIG said, of the 51,229 food facilities subject to FDA inspection, 56% were not inspected at all between 2004 and 2008, and 14% were only inspected once during that time period. Only 30% were inspected at least twice.
The report follows on the heels of a number of high-profile food illness outbreaks over the last several years, including a number of E. coli ground beef outbreaks, salmonella food poisoning outbreaks, and the massive 2007 peanut butter recall. The report also comes as multi-product recalls are still being issued over vegetable protein salmonella contamination and pepper salmonella contamination.
It also comes as the U.S. congress weighs the FDA Food Modernization Act, a bill that would significantly strengthen the FDA’s food inspection and regulatory powers. Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the report confirmed lawmakers’ fears.
“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,” Sen. Harkin said in a press release this week. “Quite simply, picking up food at the grocery store should not be a health risk.”