January 11, 2012
By Marie Claire Jalonick
Congressional investigators looking into an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe linked to 30 deaths last year found that third-party auditors who gave Colorado’s Jensen Farms a “superior” rating just before the outbreak largely ignored government guidance on food safety.
A bipartisan report released Tuesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee quotes a representative of an auditing company that graded the facility two months before the outbreak as saying audits are not intended to help clients improve food safety standards. Retailers often rely on such audits to make sure food they buy is safe.
Democrats on the panel asked the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on such third-party auditors, who often are the only outside entities to inspect food facilities. A food safety law signed last year will boost FDA inspections of such facilities, but money to carry out those inspections is not guaranteed from Congress.
“Weaknesses in third-party auditors represent a significant gap in the food safety system,” the Democrats said. Republicans on the committee signed the report but did not echo the Democratic call for more oversight.
The FDA currently does not regulate third-party auditors. The food safety law requires the agency to improve third-party audits of food facilities abroad that export to the United States, but does not address domestic audits.