ATLANTA ? A new food inspection system for Georgia would prioritize the scrutiny of food products based on their contamination risk, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
Consumer safety advocates have praised the move, though it highlights a fundamental problem of food inspections: keeping pace with the old goal of one routine inspection every six months.
?We feel like it?s really important because...what you do is put your resources toward where your greatest exposure is, and I think it helps you do a better job,? said Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
An audit released this summer found that as of May 2011, the Georgia Department of Agriculture had conducted one inspection every six months for only 51% of the state?s 740 licensed food processing facilities, with the rest having been inspected within the past year or even longer. The results prompted Black?s department to devise a model that focused inspections based on risk.
?The idea is you want to focus your resources on the person preparing the sushi, not the one who has the processed food in a package,? said Doug Farquhar, the program director for environmental health at the National Conference of State Legislatures. ?Georgia is kind of bringing itself up to speed.?
Georgia, like many states, faces a resource issue, despite increasing the number of its inspectors from three to seven since a 2009 salmonella outbreak traced to a Georgia peanut processing plant.
As Georgia food inspectors review facilities, they are assessing a manufacturer?s risk, a review that should be concluded within a year, said Oscar Garrison, director of the food safety division with the state Department of Agriculture.
Garrison said the number of inspections under a risk priority system could vary widely, with a high-risk producer getting a quarterly inspection, and small establishments with unblemished records going two years without seeing an inspector.
Products going to vulnerable populations, including babies and the elderly, would generally receive greater scrutiny than products destined for the general populations, Garrison said, adding that no matter the initial risk determination, a manufacturer could find itself under greater scrutiny if the facility is cited for violations or if testing reveals contamination.