FDA lags in audits of food safety

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration conducted only about half the state food-safety audits it promised in the two years before the recent peanut salmonella outbreak, according to new documents the agency sent to Congress.

The documents show the agency did not do any of the required audits of state-run food inspections in five states during those states’ budget years spanning 2007 and 2008. And the FDA was unable to say whether audits were conducted at all in 11 additional states during that time, including Georgia and Texas, where salmonella was found in two peanut plants during a wide-ranging peanut recall earlier this year.

Only 14 states saw 100 percent of the audits completed.

The FDA audits are a key part of the federal government’s ability to ensure that food is inspected properly by states that contract with the FDA to perform safety checks. The agency turned over its records on the audits to Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in response to questioning at hearings earlier this year.

Officials traced the salmonella outbreak to the Peanut Corp. of America’s plant in Georgia and blamed the outbreak for the deaths of at least nine people. Hundreds more were sickened.

Additional numbers for 2006 and 2007 showed that no audits were done in Texas and seven other states during that period.

Stephen R. Mason, acting assistant commissioner for legislation at the agency, said the recent salmonella outbreak “has highlighted limitations in our current approach and has prompted internal discussions on potential enhancements to the audit program.”

In 2000, a report from the inspA summary of audits for 2007-2008 lists the total number of state contract inspections at 10,218, with only 358 audits completed — about 3.5 percent.

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