NEW YORK — Citing a recent U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee report on last year’s listeriosis outbreak, USA Today’s editorial page last week became the latest major media outlet to sharply criticize the role that third-party auditors play in the modern U.S. food safety system.
During the past month, a growing number of editorial pages have noted that while retailers require their suppliers to receive regular safety audits, the auditors themselves are almost always hired by those same suppliers. The result is a conflict of interest responsible for inflated safety scores and auditors who routinely overlook potential problems.
For example, immediately prior to the listeria outbreak, Jensen Farms, the Colorado cantaloupe grower to which the outbreak was eventually traced, was given a 96% rating on packing house sanitation by its auditor Primus Labs. “If retailers paid for audits, as a few do, there’d be more incentive for impartial audits,” USA Today argues. “Retailers could also demand that auditors be assigned randomly to jobs from a pool.”
Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association wrote a rejoinder, noting that “it is already standard industry practice to rotate auditors to avoid potential familiarity issues. In some cases, it’s the buyer who actually chooses a grower’s auditing firm.”