I thought I was getting over my shock and outrage regarding the recent salmonella contamination of peanut butter and peanut products stemming from The Peanut Corporation of America (PPA). But, an article last week in the New York Times, Food Problems Elude Private Inspectors, raised my awareness even more about flaws in food industry supply chains. This article exposes the fact that the contaminated PPA facility in Blakely Georgia had been inspected by a privately hired inspector in March of 2008, and according to this inspector, “the overall food safety level of this facility was considered to be: Superior..”. .
This inspector, who was employed by the American Institute of Baking, had performed his inspection on behalf of Kellogg and other food companies, but his inspection services were reportedly paid for by PPA. The specified inspector had less than a day to inspect the entire plant, and as noted in this article, was not aware that salmonella bacteria could survive in plant such as PPA. Another audit by a Michigan based firm found two dozen minor problems but scored the PPA plant 91 out of 100.
The article further explains that while audits are not required by the U.S. government, food companies are increasingly requiring their suppliers to undergo such voluntary audits. The rigor of these audits can contrast from cheap, to an FDA class audit. Also noted was these private auditors inspect only manufacturing plants, not the suppliers that feed ingredients to these facilities.
Last week, I applauded the food industry for publicly calling for increased funding of the U.S. FDA for broader inspection and transparency control. It seems that these same food companies need to extend these controls to their private inspection processes as well.
Yes, every food related company should indeed insure that it was a comprehensive food safety plan in place. But in light of this latest revelation, that plan needs to include comprehensive audits from either private or government agencies.