Congress Slams Third-party Food Facility Audits
Posted 11 January 2012 | By
A congressional report released on 10 January slammed a third-party auditor for giving a food production facility a "superior" ranking just two months before an outbreak of listeria that originated at the facility killed 30 people.
The facility, Jensen Farms, had hired Colorado-based Primus Labs to conduct the facility's audit. Congressional investigators found that the auditors were either ignorant of FDA guidance documents regarding food safety or blatantly ignored them.
The report calls for the US Food and Drug Administration to crack down on third-auditors, calling them "a significant gap in the food safety system".
FDA does not presently regulate third-party auditors.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), signed last year, provided funding to FDA to increase inspections of facilities, but the money is subject to the congressional appropriations process, and FDA's increase in funding for 2012 was roughly 1/10th of what the FDA had lobbied for.
Congressional investigators noted that Primus Labs passed as "superior" the overwhelming majority of facilities that it inspected, but company executives rejected that they were auditing companies without regard to safety regulations.
Primus executives did, however, admit to not accounting for adherence to FDA food guidance documents in their audits. FDA does not have specific regulations governing cantaloupe processing.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans differed in their reaction to the report. Democrats called for increased inspections and a crackdown on third-party auditors, while Republicans made no recommendations.