Just How Reliable are Third-Party Inspections?

A House subcommittee yesterday released new documents that showed how third-party inspectors hired by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) failed to find long-standing sanitary problems at company facilities. PCA is at the center of the nationwide outbreak that has sickened nearly 700 people and is blamed for at least nine deaths.

Lawmakers said the food industry’s private inspection system failed to catch filthy conditions because the company itself hired the inspectors. “There is an obvious and inherent conflict of interest when an auditor works for the same supplier it is evaluating,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee. He termed Peanut Corp.’s relationship with it inspector, AIB, a “cozy” one, according to the AP report. Last summer, AIB reportedly awarded the peanut processor a certificate for superior quality at its Plainview, Texas, plant, which earlier this year was shut down due to salmonella concerns.

Federal law does not require food companies to pay for their own inspections of suppliers, nor are industry labs and inspectors required to tell the government about any problems they find. At least one food company that used its own inspectors, Nestle USA, decided not to do business with PAC based on their findings.

The House committee released a 2002 report from Nestle inspectors’ review of the company’s Blakeley, Georgia, plant. “They found that the place was filthy,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, in the AP report. A second audit by Nestle USA of PCA’s Texas facility in 2006 also found major pest control and other problems. The same audit noted that the plant had no pathogen-monitoring plan and that one needed to be developed for the plant to be in compliance with audit standards.


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