Outsourcing Food Inspections Doesn’t Work

Friday, March 06, 2009

One would think that with all the trillions of dollars the U.S. government spends, the least it could do is protect Americans’ food supplies. But the regulatory agencies in charge of inspecting food manufacturers has been so weakened over the past eight years that much of the work has been left to private inspection agencies hired by the food companies themselves. With profit as the bottom line, the quality of these inspections leaves a lot to be desired. The most recent food safety catastrophe deals with the contamination of peanut products at the Blakely, Georgia, plant of the Peanut Corporation of America. In a March 27, 2008, report by the American Institute of Baking, the food safety level at the plant was graded “SUPERIOR.” In fact, the plant was highly tainted with salmonella, and the Peanut Corporation of America had been shipping poisoned peanut products. By the time federal investigators finally caught up with the problem, nine people are thought to have died and an estimated 22,500 were made sick.

In another particularly grotesque example, the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of Chino, California, managed to pass 17 separate audits in 2007 despite the fact that they were forcing diseased cows into their slaughterhouse. The scandal was not revealed until an undercover investigator, who obtained work at the Westland facility, released a video of the illegal activities. Some of the meat was being sent to the National School Lunch Program.
Food Problems Elude Private Inspectors (by Michael Moss and Andrew Martin, New York Times)


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