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Are the FDA's Outsourced Inspectors Keeping your Food Safe?


A recent comprehensive article featured in Bloomberg Markets magazine highlights major issues with out nation's food safety programs, mainly the outsourcing done by the FDA because the agency lacks the resources to conduct its own safety inspections.

More than 3,000 Americans died last year from contaminated food. More than 48 million Americans were sickened as a result of foodborne illnesses—that's more than twelve percent of the nation that became sick as a result of something they ate. Those numbers rose by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010. To date, there have been more than 30 FDA food recalls so far this year (including pet food).

Theoretically, the FDA inspects all food sold in the country minus animal-based products (inspected by the also-struggling USDA). And according to the article, the agency lacks the funds and resources to inspect American's food supply with any real stringency. The article states: "In 2011, the FDA inspected 6 percent of domestic food producers and just 0.4 percent of importers. The FDA has had no rules for how often food producers must be inspected."

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Instead, the agency "outsources" its inspection obligations to private food inspection agencies. The article highlights several instances where third party inspectors certified products as safe just before the foods were directly responsible for major foodborne illness outbreaks that caused widespread illness and in some cases, death, including the 2011 listeria-contaminated cantaloupe outbreak that led to a 17-state recall and 33 deaths.

The article authors write, "for-hire auditors have financial ties to executives at companies they're reviewing." This would explain why in most cases, inspectors don't actually even test for pathogens. A former auditor interviewed for the article said that many of the inspectors don't ever visit the production areas of the companies they're inspecting, "The private inspectors that companies select often check only those areas their clients ask them to review. That means they can miss deadly pathogens lurking in places they never examined."

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: EverJean

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