WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration is set to make its second round of supermarket inspections to see if stores are still voluntarily providing nutritional information for fresh seafood and produce.
The inspections, slated for November and December, are to be conducted in stores throughout the United States, according to Dagmar Farr, vice president of consumer affairs for the Food Marketing Institute here. The visits to the produce and seafood departments will be unannounced.
At issue is whether the departments are in compliance with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which says retailers must provide shoppers with nutrition information at the point of sale for the top 20 seafood items and the top 20 fresh fruits and top 20 fresh vegetables in their stores.
Failure to be in "substantial compliance" as an industry will result in the voluntary program becoming a mandatory government regulation, according to Farr.
The supermarket industry passed the first round of inspections for compliance, which were conducted in late 1992, but there is room for improvement, Farr said.
"Substantial compliance" means that 60% of the retailers inspected must post 90% of the required nutrition information.
At first glance, the results of the first inspection were positive: 76% of the retailers inspected by the government were found in compliance for produce information and 74% for seafood.
But when examined by company size, small independents were found to be only 42% in compliance for fruits and vegetables and 25% in compliance for fresh seafood. Those low marks averaged out to a passing grade when added to stronger marks for larger
independents and chain stores.
The requirements of the law can be met by posting signs in the departments. FMI has posters available for the purpose, in addition to camera-ready art that can be reproduced by the retailer, Farr said. The information for the posters, called Nutri-Facts, was developed in conjunction with other food industry trade groups.
"We are making an all-out effort to make sure the industry is in compliance," Farr said.
Last week, Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of FMI, sent a letter to members alerting them to the upcoming inspections. The mailing included an announcement saying "Are You Ready?" Hammonds said in the letter that the announcement can be reproduced and used to remind store associates of the "critical importance of having the nutrition information posted at all times."
Should the nutrition information become mandatory for fresh fruits and vegetables and seafood, failure to comply would result in "steep fines and criminal penalties," according to the announcement.