Third party food safety audits are like mail-order diplomas

Mansour, I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“The contributions of third-party audits to food safety is the same as the contribution of mail-order diploma mills to education,” said Mansour Samadpour, a Seattle consultant who has worked with companies nationwide to improve food safety.

The Ponzi scheme that is third-party food safety audits is starting to collapse. Watching Jon Stewart on the Daily Show last night, the questions he asked to a N.Y. Times reporter about the financial mess could have easily been mapped to the food safety mess (see video below).

The N.Y. Times will report in tomorrow’s editions that the American Institute of Baking auditor who gave the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia a superior rating before the peanut-salmonella shitstorm, was an expert in fresh produce and was not aware that peanuts were readily susceptible to salmonella poisoning — which he was not required to test for anyway. Oh, and PCA paid for the audit which Kelloog’s then blindly accepted.

The auditor even wrote in a Jan. 20 e-mail after the salmonella outbreak became public, that, “I never thought that this bacteria would survive in the peanut butter type environment. What the heck is going on??”

That’s why there’s FSnet and barfblog and hundreds of other food safety resources out there; he never heard of Peter Pan and salmonella in 2007?

In 2007, Keystone Foods, the Pennsylvania plant that makes Veggie Booty, received an “excellent” rating from the American Institute of Baking. But the audit did not extend to ingredient suppliers, including a New Jersey company whose imported spices from China were tainted with salmonella.

“The only thing that matters is productivity,” said Robert A. LaBudde, a food safety expert who has consulted with food companies for 30 years, adding that “you only get in trouble if someone in the media traces it back to you, and that’s rare, like a meteor strike.”

Dr. LaBudde said a sausage plant hired him five years ago to determine the species of bacillus plaguing its meat. But the owner then refused to complete the testing. “I called them ‘anthrax sausages,’ and said they could be killing older people in the state, and still they wouldn’t do it,” he said, declining to name the company.

Before the salmonella outbreak, Costco had rebuffed repeated proposals by the organization to inspect all its food suppliers. “The American Institute of Baking is bakery experts,” said R. Craig Wilson, the top food safety official at Costco. “But you stick them in a peanut butter plant or in a beef plant, they are stuffed.”

Costco, Kraft Foods and Darden Restaurants are among a group of food manufacturers and other companies that use detailed plans to prevent food safety hazards. They also supplement third-party audits with their own inspections and testing of ingredients and plant surfaces for microbes.