Food Inspector Shortage Contributed to Salmonella Outbreak

Amid one of the largest <"">salmonella outbreaks in history, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that it has become more apparent that one of the problems contributing to such outbreaks in this country is a significant shortage of food inspectors.

According to the AP,  state budget problems are contributing to a problem that has left a glut of unfilled food inspection jobs at some of the larger facilities.  In particular, the AP report cited Georgia, where 60 inspectors handle about 16,000 sites; 15 inspector positions are forced to remain empty there over budget cuts.  Georgia is the state where the notorious Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant responsible for the massive salmonella outbreak is located.  The AP noted that California, Texas, and Florida are also facing similar problems and Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has 12 of its 129 inspector positions open.

In Texas, eight food inspector positions are vacant and 34 inspectors are responsible for approximately 21,000 facilities, which include food distributors and salvage operations, said the AP.  Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, pointed out that this means that each inspector is responsible for about 618 facilities each, reported the AP.  McBride noted that, because of the dearth of inspectors, they are forced to only look at firms that either produce high-risk foods or have known issues.

“You can only shift the pawns on the table so many times before the game catches up with you,” Georgia deputy Agriculture Commissioner Oscar Garrison told legislators earlier this month, said the AP.  Meanwhile, experts note that the government defers to states to monitor food safety, it added.

Regarding the ongoing Georgia salmonella case directly linked to a PCA plant, a state inspection in October that was conducted in under two hours, revealed only minor problems, said the AP, yet, last month, federal agents found a variety of revolting conditions including cockroaches, mold, and a leaking roof.

Before the financial downturn that has resulted in budget cuts at local, state, and federal levels, food safety was a point of significant concern with the much-criticized U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  As a matter-of-fact, the gargantuan peanut butter scandal that has sickened over 600 and has been linked to the death of nine people, prompted President Barack Obama to order a “complete review” of the agency as one of his new administration’s first orders of business.

The agency has long been criticized for a wide variety of issues, conflicts, and failures, with the recent, highly publicized peanut butter debacle causing outrage nationwide.  Said Obama, the peanut butter contamination that has hit nearly every state and Canada was just the most recent in an array of “instances over the last several years” in which “the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch,” reported Today in an earlier piece.  Today noted that critics routinely pointed to the recent Bush administration as having “crippled” the FDA with eight years of budget cuts and a refusal to conduct an overhaul of the failing agency.

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