There is an excellent article (Broken links in food-safety chain hide peanut plants’ risk) penned by Julie Schmit of USA Today that should be mandatory reading if you or your company is involved with food-related supply chains.
This article outlines the events leading up to the actual discovery of the salmonella contamination that originated from the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, Georgia plant, the post-discovery events leading to a criminal investigation, and the obvious lessons for the food industry. From reading the story, I came to the conclusion that quality and inspection reforms are way overdue, and the events seem to have the same litany of the failed oversight process that brought about the recent world financial crisis.
Among the takeaways within the article were:
- A quote from William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner indicating that the outbreak “is a poster child for everything that went wrong” with the U.S.’s food-safety system. “The whole idea (of third party audits) isn’t working. Inspectors are either telling the client what they want to hear, or doing a perfunctory audit or they’re poorly trained“.
- The fact that the U.S. FDA can only inspect food facilities, on average, every five to ten years unless they are deemed high risk, which peanut processors were not. The FDA last inspection of the PCA Blakely plant was in 2001, while Georgia inspectors visited the plant in the last three years and cited only minor problems.
If the litany of events doesn’t catch your attention, than the quote from a former employee should. The plant roof leaked so badly, “It rained in the plan.””
As a consumer, I’m going to hold food companies more accountable for the overall quality and safety of their products. As an experienced supply chain observer, I believe that time is long overdue for a new model of supplier and production audits.