The state Department of Agriculture and Markets isn’t keeping up with the demands of its inspection schedule, which has allowed thousands of food manufacturers, supermarkets, bakeries and other food-related businesses to operate without updated inspections, according to an audit released today by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
As of June 4, inspections that were due for almost 5,000 establishments had not been completed, according to auditors. Another 439 new establishments did not yet have a required initial inspection completed prior to opening for business, the audit found. A random sample of 45 of the new establishments found that license applications had languished for an average of six months. Nineteen of those businesses, including fish markets, delis and convenience stores, were already preparing food without the required inspection.
The agency’s Division of Food Safety and Inspection is responsible for inspecting more than 31,000 establishments statewide, including food manufacturers, wholesale bakers, beverage processors, food warehouses, refrigerated warehouses, retail food stores, slaughterhouses, fish processors, rendering/disposal plants and food transportation services.
The Department of Agriculture and Markets received 5,724 consumer complaints for investigation between April 1, 2011 and June 4, 2013, and inspectors obtained 3,894 food samples for testing to identify potential violations of food safety, state auditors said.
“Food safety is critical for the health and well-being of New Yorkers, but the Department of Agriculture and Markets is quickly falling behind in its responsibilities to make sure what the public is eating is safe,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The department needs to take immediate steps to maximize its resources and address the backlog of past-due inspections.”
The agency’s food safety division’s staff of 82 inspectors is as much as 37 percent less than what is recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To meet the requirements dictated by potential hazard ratings for existing establishments, inspectors would need to conduct 30,000 to 36,000 inspections annually, including re-inspections, or about 2.2 inspections per day by each inspector. However, between April 1, 2011 and June 4, 2013, inspectors completed an average of only 1.7 inspections per day each.
DiNapoli said inspectors could devote more time to conducting inspections by adjusting schedules and work practices to be more efficient.
Auditors found that most consumer complaints were investigated in a timely manner and confirmed the department’s food sampling program is a nationally recognized leader in the field.
DiNapoli recommended the department establish performance measures for food inspection activities; implement procedures to further prioritize and ensure timely completion of inspections of new establishments; and increase efforts to provide coordinated real-time access to data among divisions and obtain training on how to use that data to monitor performance.