House Democrats call for tougher food safety audits following deadly Listeria outbreak

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"Our investigation reveals some of the reasons why: the auditors' findings were not based on the practices of the best farms and failed to ensure that the producer met FDA guidance; the auditors missed or failed to prioritize important food safety deficiencies; the auditors lacked any regulatory authority and did not report identified problems to the FDA or other state or federal authorities; the auditors did not ensure that identified problems were resolved; and the auditors provided advance notice of site visits and spent only a short period of time on-site. It also became apparent in the investigation that the auditors had multiple conflicts of interest.

"The FDA has an opportunity to correct many of these problems."

Democrats want federal regulators to take the report's findings into account as they write new auditing rules required by the new food-safety law that was enacted last year. The law requires the FDA to establish an accreditation system and model auditing standards for third-party audits for imported foods, but industry officials say they expect the new standards to also influence the actions of auditors inspecting domestically grown produce.

"We hope that FDA will consider our findings when drafting these rules," the letter says, "and we suggest that FDA consider developing a voluntary model program for domestic auditors that could become the standard of care for third-party auditing programs in the United States."