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Data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that the agency is not meeting its goals for auditing the state food-safety inspections done on its behalf.

State agency inspections account for a full 50% of all FDA food inspections. The FDA has a goal of auditing only 7% of these to ensure state compliance with inspection requirements but did not meet this goal in 17 of the 39 states it paid to do inspections in 2007-2008. The FDA performed no audits at all in five of these states: Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

A lack of proper auditing can mean serious problems for food safety. When in 2007-2008, the state of Georgia inspected the Peanut Corporation of America’s plant, which ultimately proved responsible for a salmonella outbreak that killed at least eight and sickened hundreds, it found only minor problems. When the FDA inspected the same plant, it discovered major food safety issues.

President Barack Obama’s new pick to head the FDA, bioterrorism expert and former NYC health commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, has pledged to make protecting the country’s food supply a major priority. Hamburg has indicated that if confirmed, she will “put science first” at the FDA, and ensure that the agency is running an “open and accountable operation.”

Obama’s budget, released Thursday, calls for a $260-million increase for the FDA’s food safety program. Past budget cuts have hit the food inspection program hard, and part of the new funding would go to rebuild the ranks of inspectors. –AP

Currently, manufacturing and ensuring distribution of an effective vaccine against swine flu tops the FDA’s priority list. If the virus turns out to be milder that it first presented itself, large scale immunization for the American population may not be necessary.

Hamburg has said that in general, she wants the FDA to be able to stop damage controlling outbreaks after they have already hit and focus instead on prevention.

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