January 22, 2019

Questions About USDA’s Import Inspection Program

Food and Water Watch is questioning the USDA’s import inspection program after lapses allowed problematic food into the country. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the agency, sent a letter to USDA SEcretary Tom Vilsack, “pointing to six specific incidents where imported product was ether recalled or entered into U.S. without proper inspection. In some of these cases, the problem was not discovered until U.S. consumers had already consumed most of the product.”

usdaartThe problems are apparently in the new inspection information technology system called the Public Health Information System (PHIS). Food safety experts say that there are problems with PHIS for both domestic and imported food inspections. PHIS went into operation on May 29, 2012.

The incidents include recalls on February 22, 2014 of Mastro Meat products that were not properly inspected when coming into the US from Canada; salami products imported from Italy in November 2013 that was not reinspected; and poultry imported from Canada on January 22, 2014 that was not inspected at the border.

Food and Water Watch wants to know how long the products were in commerce before the government realized they were not inspected. For instance, for the recalled salami products, only 113 pounds, or 0.86%, of the product was recovered, which means that the meat was in commerce for a long time before the recall was announced.

Food safety experts also want to know why some of these incidents are subject to recall and others are not. In addition, there are questions about budgetary problems. Are any of these incidents associated with the reduction in the budget for international programs within FSIS, or associated with the reorganization of import inspection programs within FSIS?

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