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Grocer Calls For Heightened Food Inspections

The U. S. Agriculture Department should expand its risk-based inspection system to focus on products neglected by the Food and Drug Administration to help stop a rash of massive food recalls, an official from a U. S. grocery chain said on April 2.

The U. S. food supply system is under fire after a series of big food recalls in recent years, leading to vociferous calls by lawmakers, consumer groups and most recently the Obama administration to reform the antiquated system.

“We must look beyond the meat and poultry divide and focus on food safety systems across all categories of commodities using a risk-based approach,” said John Hanlin, vice-president of food safety with Supervalu Inc.

This would help “commodities that today receive minimal inspection due to budget challenges at FDA,” he said.

USDA’s risk-based inspection system conducts inspections at plants each day, but puts more inspection resources depending on the type of product produced and how each plant is controlling risk. In some cases, the FDA can go several years without inspecting a facility.

Hanlin said USDA has used its risk-based inspection system to reduce the incidence of salmonella in poultry and to highlight the challenges of reducing E. coli in ground beef. He proposed expanding the authority to other high-risk products such as spinach, other leafy greens, tomatoes, nuts, grains and other raw agricultural commodities.

“We must remove products from our shelves and our (distribution centres) almost daily due to food safety issues reported to us by USDA, FDA and food manufacturers,” Hanlin told members of the House Agriculture Committee. “Consumers are losing confidence in our food supply.”

Fifteen federal agencies handle food safety including FDA, which handles about 80 per cent of the food supply, and USDA, which is in charge of red meat, poultry and eggs.

In the latest foodborne outbreak, a California firm on Monday issued a nationwide recall of pistachios due to possible salmonella contamination, prompting snack makers and retailers ranging from PepsiCo Inc. to grocery chain Kroger Co. to remove products from store shelves as a precaution.

The recall comes as the United States deals with the fallout from its largest recall in history. A salmonella outbreak, which began in September, was traced to peanut products and led to 700 illnesses and the recall of more than 3,400 products.

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