January 16, 2018

FDA: Third Party Audits To Play A Bigger Role in Food Safety

During a budget hearing before a House subcommittee Friday, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said that food inspections were just one of many activities that will comprise the agency’s strategy to protect the nation’s food supply in the next budget cycle. But one element that she described as being “very, very important to our program” will give some in the food safety world pause: third party audits.

FDA-Food-SafetyThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses third party audits of food manufacturing facilities and farms to supplement the inspections it performs. But, as two high-profile food poisoning outbreaks have illustrated, there are serious problems with the way the third-party inspection system works.

Chief among them is that growers or companies that make food are often required to get and pay for their own audits which does not create an impartial system. Jensen Farms was given a “superior” rating from a third party auditor months before it caused the deadly cantaloupe Listeria outbreak of 2011 that sickened 147 people and killed 33. The farm received the “superior” rating even though major deficiencies were found including: doors left open so animals could enter, handwashing stations with no hot water, packing tables made of wood which can harbor bacteria, no pre-cooling of melons and no chlorine in the water used to wash the melons. Peanut Corp. of America, which produced products tainted with Salmonella that sickened more than 600 people and may have killed as many as nine also got a “superior” rating shortly before causing the outbreak.

Another problem is that there aren’t any standards for third party auditors. A 2012 study by Bloomberg Markets found that third party auditors are not required to follow any federal standards and have no government supervision they are only given guidelines. After the Jensen Frans outbreak, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report that found third-party auditors don’t often follow those guidelines. In the report released in January 2012, democrats on Committee said “weaknesses in third-party auditors represent a significant gap in the food safety system” and some, in a separate letter, asked the FDA to enact stricter oversight over the auditing process. No changes have yet been made.

Comments

  1. Kenneth Kendrick says:

    Peanut Corp of America, largest recall in History, was Given the “Gold Standard” a few months before being shut down. The inspectors announce when they are coming months ahead of time, are paid well, and the congressional record even shows one of them saying via email “lucky you, you got me as your inspector.” A pre-announced, paid inspection is a joke and they know it. PCA execs wil go to trial in October, with their Gold Standard certificate from the American Bakers Association. Nestle , who did their own audit failed them, but the ABA gives them gold as they were paid to do so. (yes I am bias as I am the “Whistleblower” against them.

  2. William Kanitz President says:

    You have not hit on the biggest problem of third party audits. Third Party auditors are not on site every day and It is one persons idea of what he or she has seen on that ONE day that they took the audit. All records need date and time stanps and the data done and collected on that date can not be erased. Most packing and growing operations do not record the data every day let alone once a week Yes, third-party auditors represent a significant gap in the food safety system. Certification is for retailers, not food systems or food safety.

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