Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the FDA now wants states to evaluate and assess their own inspection plans. FDA wants to implement this new plan even after Georgia failed to prevent the salmonella outbreak that was traced back to the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely peanut plant, “exposing broad gaps in the nation’s food safety system.”
Apparently, FDA is required to evaluate the performance of states it pays to inspect food processors. However, FDA hasn’t formally reviewed Georgia’s performance since 2001. “During that time, eight people contracted botulism from chili sauce canned in Augusta, contaminated peanut butter from Sylvester sickened hundreds, and salmonella-tainted products from Peanut Corporation of America have been blamed for nine deaths and more than 700 illnesses.”
Inspectors at the state Agriculture Department went with the “no-news-is-good-news approach” and thought they were doing a fine job. Oscar Garrison, Georgia’s assistant agriculture commissioner for consumer protection referring to the FDA, said, “If they haven’t raised issues, they don’t have any issue with how we conducted those inspections. That’s all we have to go on.”
Currently, FDA delegates about 80 percent of food processing inspections to state regulators. “Agencies with food safety responsibilities often don’t communicate with each other and, in some cases, are prevented by law from sharing information. When catastrophes such as the Peanut Corporation salmonella outbreak occur, no single federal, state or local agency has the authority to take charge.”
FDA is now shifting more responsibilities to the states because of their chronic inadequate budgets. Georgia has until October to complete its first evaluation. They have to examine certifications that inspectors have adequate training that laboratories are properly funded and that state regulations conform with federal food safety standards.