SCHUMER: RAT-INFESTED FOOD WAREHOUSES SUPPLYING NYC RESTAURANTS WITH EVERYTHING FROM CANNOLIS TO CHINESE & RUSSIAN FOOD HAVE SERIOUSLY VIOLATED FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS & THE PUBLIC IS NEVER INFORMED; CALLS ON FDA FOR THREE-STEP PLAN TO BOOST INSPECTIONS, INCREASE FINES & CREATE EASILY-SEARCHABLE DATABASE SO RESTAURANTS CAN STOP BUYING FROM UNSANITARY OPERATIONS
In 2014 Alone, The FDA Cited Over 90 Food Facilities or Processing Sites for Insanitary Conditions, Including the Presence of Live & Dead Rats & Birds Amongst Food Products – Shockingly, It Can Take the FDA Months to Act on Inspections & Restaurants That Buy From Violating Food Processers May Never Find Out
Schumer Said That FDA Violations Are Not Made Public At Time of Violation & Punishments For Violation Are Too Lax – Calls For An Increase in Federal Food Facilities Inspections, Greater Fines to Deter Disgusting Conditions & Searchable Public Database for Restaurants & Consumers to Easily Discover Violations
Schumer: More Must Be Done to Ensure Cannolis, Chinese Food, Pizza Dough & Other Food Products Are Only Items on the Menu
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement a three-step plan to address recent reports of rat-infested and otherwise insanitary food warehouses that supply food to restaurants across the country and could be a threat to public health in New York City and elsewhere. Shockingly, it was made public at the end of 2014 that the FDA had inspected a Brooklyn-based food supplier’s warehouse in October and found rodent carcasses, rodent feces and more. Additionally, in 2014, the FDA sent warning letters to 90 other food facilities across the country specifically regarding insanitary conditions at their food-processing sites, including: 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. Equally disturbing to the conditions themselves, Schumer explained that there is no easily-accessible, real-time, source of information for restaurants or consumers to discover which food processing and production facilities have FDA food safety violations, and to react accordingly. Therefore, restaurant owners may not find out that a facility has experienced violations before it continues to purchase and serve food from this facility, and consumers could then be at risk.
Schumer today said that, in light of these recent discoveries at a wide-variety of food facilities which appear systemic, the FDA should first, increase the regularity of inspections of all food facilities or processing sites for insanitary conditions. Schumer explained that the FDA only inspects “high risk” food facilities once every three years, and even less often for those that have not yet received violations. Schumer noted that more inspections will also benefit facilities that have had small violations, who should be allowed to quickly rectify the problem and be able to return to business. Second, Schumer said that the FDA should increase the fees for violations, and potential repeat violations, to deter disgusting conditions. Lastly, Schumer said that the FDA should create an easily-searchable database so that restaurants and consumers may search specific food facilities, caterers and suppliers to find violation information. Schumer explained that clear public publication of violations, in real time as they occur.
“At the end of 2014, the FDA quietly revealed hundreds of food safety violations at food processing facilities over the course of the year, and everyone from restaurant-goers to owners are appalled by some of the disgusting conditions at warehouses that supply our food. Reports of the filthy conditions at some of these warehouses sound like a page straight out of Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle,’” said Senator Schumer. “It’s clear that more must be done to ensure cannolis, Chinese food, pizza dough and other delicious food are the only items on the menu! The FDA should immediately implement a three-pronged plan that would boost the number of inspections, create a public, searchable database about violations and increase the fines to improve conditions and deter future violations.”
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed Congress in 2010 and was enacted in 2011, expanded food safety oversight at the FDA and made several key changes to the FDA inspection process. For the first time, the FDA has been given an inspection mandate under this legislation, however Schumer says that efforts are clearly still inadequate. Specifically, the legislation calls for all “high-risk” domestic food facilities to be inspected within five years of the bill’s signing and then, at least once every three years after that. In addition, all other domestic food facilities must be inspected within seven years of the bill’s signing and then at least once every five years after that. Schumer does not believe that this is frequent enough.
Currently the FDA’s inspection process at food warehouses involve: an initial inspection, observations from inspection shared with the facility owner, and if violation are found and not immediately addressed, the issuance of a warning letter to the facility owner. During this months-long process the FDA works with the facility to bring the site back into compliance and additional inspections are done on some occasions. Schumer said this system is too private, and that these FDA letter are only made available annually, at the end of each year. For example, one company that supplies Chinese restaurants was inspected on October 15th and 20th, at which time it was found that boxes of food had rodent nests inside them, rodent carcasses were scattered throughout the building, birds were flying around the warehouse and defecating on food items and more. The FDA did not issue a letter to the company privately until December 9th, and that was only made public at the end of the year. It is unclear what repercussions the company has faced, if any.
In a letter to the FDA, Schumer pressed the agency to adopt a three-pronged policy to help improve conditions at food warehouses and better inform the public about future violations. Specifically, Schumer said that currently, FDA violations are far too private and the punishments for violation are far too lax, therefore making it more likely that the violations remain unfixed or be repeated.
- · First, Schumer said that every facility that receives food safety violations in the form of a warning letter from the FDA should be immediately categorized as a High Risk Facility. In addition, the FDA should increase the number of inspections for all such facilities. As the FDA moves to a risk-based inspection process, facilities identified as high risk with documented warning letters should be considered enough of a risk to the safety of our food supply to receive follow-up inspections. Schumer did note that when a facility has shown through lab tests and inspection that it has no containments, that facility should be quickly cleared and able to go back in business.
- · Second, Schumer highlighted his grave concern that there is no process for restaurants, other customers and consumers to be made aware of violations, and to react accordingly. Schumer said this is particularly important given that the FDA inspection process can drag on for months at a time, and resolution of violations can take even longer. Retail food vendors should have a clear and consumer-friendly way of knowing if the food products that they are buying are from a facility have known food safety violations cited by the FDA. Schumer explained that the FDA posts their yearly warning letters on their website, however, it’s nearly impossible to search for specific companies. The FDA should provide an easy to find, search and navigate database of these facilities and their violations on their website or through another forum FDA believes can most effectively inform consumers.
- · Third, Schumer urged the FDA to enhance the penalties for facilities with repeated food safety violations and the subsequent inspections of these facilities. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act allows for fees to be assessed for a reinspection of domestic facilities to determine whether corrective actions have been implemented and are effective and compliance has been achieved to FDA’s satisfaction. For Fiscal Year 2015, the fees associated with these reinspections are estimated to be an hourly rate of $217. Schumer said that the current fees are insufficient and will not encourage strict compliance with our food safety laws and regulations.