Senator Asks for Better Food Safety Enforcement

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Albany, NY—Rats running amok and other unsanitary conditions have Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down harder on many of the nation’s food facilities.

The senator submitted a three-point plan for addressing the alleged food safety crisis. First, any facility hit with a warning letter for food safety violations should be categorized as a High Risk Facility, and these facilities should receive an increased number of inspections. The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 requires all high-risk domestic food facilities to be inspected within five years of the bill’s signing and at least once every three years after that, but Schumer claims this isn’t adequate.

Schumer’s second suggestion is for FDA to provide a database of high-risk facilities on its Web site or elsewhere that is easy to find and search. This is needed, he says, so that consumers and restaurants can react accordingly even while the lengthy inspection and violation resolution process is ongoing. A food supplier’s warehouse in Brooklyn was inspected in October of 2014, and rodent carcasses, rodent feces and other issues were discovered. Schumer pointed out that a warning letter was not issued until December and the public was not made aware until the end of the year.

The third prong of his plan calls for FDA to increase penalties for food safety violations and the resulting reinspections. For the Fiscal Year 2015, the fees FDA will require of facilities that are being reinspected are estimated to be $217 per hour. The senator said these fees are not sufficient to encourage compliance with food safety laws.

A number of other disturbing examples of unclean and potentially unsafe food production and handling facilities illustrate the need for increased enforcement, according to Schumer’s open letter to FDA. Over 90 warning letters were sent to food facilities in 2014 about unsanitary conditions, such as “inadequate hygienic practices at a frozen pizza dough and cheese grating facility, insects at a facility that produces rice, and dead mice and dead rats at a cookie manufacturing facility.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2015 (online 1/29/15)